Spotlight on Diversifying the Child Welfare Workforce With Lived Expertise

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Spotlight On...

Diversifying the Child Welfare Workforce With Lived Expertise 


To better serve the communities with whom they work, child welfare agencies need to listen to the voices of people with lived experience and expertise[1] to develop authentic partnerships with families and communities[2]. Hiring people with lived experience and expertise has many benefits for child welfare agencies and those with lived experience, including[3]:

  • Engaging more fully with the communities served by the agency 
  • Developing a deeper understanding of the challenges and needs of families within their communities  
  • Co-creating the most appropriate solutions in a given context 
  • Increasing visibility and representation for youth and families who have historically been underserved by federal programs  

To effectively engage people with lived expertise, agencies must create a culture of inclusion that is both welcoming and able to effectively integrate diverse experiences and insights. This means valuing (and prioritizing) unique perspectives informed by race, gender, culture, socioeconomic background, education, and personal experience[4]. There are many meaningful roles in child welfare for people with lived expertise, including storytellers, advisors, coaches, grant writers, consultants, partners and staff[5].

When child welfare agencies explore hiring persons of lived experience as fulltime staff members or consultants, they should consider several best practices: 

  • Actively working for diversity within the lived experience hiring pool  
  • Not expecting employees with lived experience to share their trauma as a learning tool for other staff 
  • Prioritizing the input of employees with lived experience in agency programs and policies 


  • According to current research, child welfare agencies can likely be more effective if they invest in diversity training along with recruiting and retaining staff of color[6].
  • Data suggest that engaging people with lived experience yields benefits or impacts at multiple levels: individual, program/initiative, and agency[7]. 
  • A commitment to understanding the cultures, backgrounds, and experiences of the families that workers serve can produce better outcomes for children and families and reduce disparities in child welfare systems[8]. 

Example From the Field 

One state agency has officially recognized the critical insights of youth and families with lived experience in an effort to broaden services. In 2018 the agency commissioner met with youth and families throughout the state in person to hear their concerns, suggestions, and ideas for moving the system forward. In response, the state created the Office of Family Voice, a department focused on facilitating opportunities for feedback from communities to inform programs and policies. Office of Family Voice staff include child welfare professionals as well as youth and family members with lived experience. 


Successfully integrating individuals with lived experience into the work of a child welfare agency requires agencies to take positive steps to ensure that individuals feel welcome and that their expertise is valued. The Capacity Building Center for States has several resources to help agencies build capacity for working with individuals with lived experience and expertise. 


Resource Series

Recorded Webinars, Videos, and Training

Related Resources

Related Organizations

  • Child Welfare Information Gateway promotes the safety, permanency, and well-being of children, youth, and families by connecting child welfare, adoption, and related professionals as well as the public to information, resources, and tools covering topics on child welfare, child abuse and neglect, out-of-home care, adoption, and more. 
  • The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) – advises the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on policy development in health, disability, human services, data, and science; and provides advice and analysis on economic policy. 

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