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Engaging Persons with Lived Experience in System Improvement Projects


We are gaining momentum in our Pathways to Permanency Project, a Vaya Health initiative to align the work of the child welfare and behavioral health systems. Workgroup sessions are taking place monthly, stakeholders’ meetings are occurring quarterly and in between we are busy ensuring the work moves ahead so that sustainable change is possible. However, as we have navigated this project it has been overwhelmingly clear that we needed and wanted to include individuals with lived experience in our work.

“Young adults with lived experience are the experts in the child welfare system. Any meaningful change in the child welfare system must happen with youth and young adults as our partners.” – Jerry Milner, Former Associate Commissioner of the Children’s Bureau.

The stakeholders of the Pathways to Permanency Project wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Milner and that is why the Lived Experience Advisory Council was established. The Advisory Council consists of current foster parents and kinship providers as well as youth with experience in out-of-home care. The Council will hear updates on each workgroup’s progress but also have the space to provide feedback and develop innovative solutions around the issues the workgroups are tackling. Then, their feedback and solutions will be shared with the workgroups so that workgroup participants can improve upon their work or course correct to align with the critical feedback provided by the Advisory Council.

Establishing a space for individuals with lived experience is salient in projects that involve changes in the child welfare and behavioral health systems. To do so required thinking outside of the box so that individuals with lived experience could meaningfully participate. Our staff went through several iterations of what lived experience participation could look like. After discussions with individuals with lived experience we realized we needed a separate meeting outside of our established workgroups.

We wanted to ensure that the Advisory Council was empowered to speak from their truth and their voices had ample time to be heard. The first Advisory Council session was well attended. Feedback from the lived experience council was exceptionally positive. One participant shared “It is great to hear and be a part of this work and be heard. I have been really impressed with the professionals that I have done training with and their willingness to hear and support foster parents.” The passion for change, system improvement and better outcomes for children and families was evident. We look forward to how the Lived Experience Advisory Council will continue to lend their expertise to the Pathways to Permanency Project.


The Essential Voices and Experiences of Youth Formerly in Foster Care. Children’s Bureau. June 2020, Vol.21, NO. 5

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