Lived Experience Overview

Many hands in the center together

People with Lived Experience are those directly affected by social, health, public health, or other systems. This gives them insights that can inform and influence research, policies, practices, barriers, and programs.

At DCF, Lived Experience means incorporating the experiences and perspectives of individuals impacted by a system. Lived experience is essential for Wisconsin’s Child Welfare transformation which aims to support more children and families in-home with services.

Lived experience stakeholders are a diverse group of individuals with various lived child welfare or youth justice experience; they are vital to Wisconsin’s Child Welfare transformation. This transformation needs the voices of those with lived experience to be welcomed, respected, heard, and included at all levels of change including county agencies, community organizations, and the justice and court system. Lived experience voice is transforming the child welfare system by:

  • Building equity and reducing barriers to care.
  • Empowering individuals who demonstrate resiliency in their journey.
  • Bringing awareness and a deeper understanding of system needs and service gaps in child welfare.
  • Growing compassion in professional stakeholders by hearing the stories of lived experience.
  • Promoting best practices around engaging those with lived experience to improve outcomes for children and families in Wisconsin.
  • Modifying the behaviors, ways, and approaches of child welfare professionals as they engage children, youth, parents, and families in child welfare.

What DCF is Doing to Engage Lived Experience Stakeholders

DCF is investing in Lived Experience stakeholders by actively engaging, creating strategies, and providing opportunities for those with lived experience to support youth justice and system change.

Along with Lived Experience stakeholders and experts, the DCF lived experience team, led by a Lived Experience Strategic Advisor, provides an authentic perspective that contributes to a deeper understanding of needs and service gaps. This team coordinates stakeholder groups to amplify their voices and perspectives. 

DCF’s reference to family and youth voices means allowing families and youth to be heard and using their input to make decisions that affect how we support families. These areas include participating in panel discussions, co-facilitating and co-designing workshops, and engaging in various focus and work groups on programming and changes impacting the child welfare workforce.

Get Involved

There are various ways to be involved in lived experience at DCF! They consist of the following: 

Youth Lived Experience Opportunities

DCF’s longest Lived Experience stakeholder group The Wisconsin Youth Advisory Council consists of former and current youth ages 14 – 26  in the foster care system who provide a voice for all foster care youth in Wisconsin and Nationwide. The group originated in 2004 as a local, regional chapter in Milwaukee and, in 2005, became a State Council consisting of Seven Regions. Youth start on regional councils but, if desired, later can become members of the Statewide Advisory Council. Learn more about one of the resources the Youth Advisory Council created here, Healthy Relationship Guide.  

Youth Leadership Teams are young people ages 14 to 21 who have personal experience with the youth justice system. One of the accomplishments include Advice Guidebook from Youth. Meetings for the Youth Leadership team only occur during the academic school year, and the youth provide instrumental feedback for our justice system partners.

Lived Experience Opportunities

The Relative Caregiver Stakeholder Group offers recommendations, feedback, and guidance on developing resources, support, and education for relative caregivers in Wisconsin. Individuals will go through an application process if interested and will work with other relative caregivers across the State. The group created the impactful Kinship Navigator Portal that helps connect caregivers to local resources within their area. 

In collaboration with the Office of Children's Mental Health, the Department of Children and Families launched the  Parent Leaders of Child Welfare Group in 2021. This is a group of parents who, at some point, had an active open case within their local Child Welfare agency. Parents have varied experiences with child welfare, including having children in out-of-home care, on an in-home safety plan, adopted, or in kinship placements. This group has been influential in raising awareness from a parent’s perspective. Parent Leaders support various initiatives that enhance and elevate parents’ voices within system change. 

The group’s recommendations for better communication with parents engaged in Child Welfare helped create the An Introduction to Child Welfare - For Parents, By Parents and Understanding the Language of Child Welfare - A Resource for Parents resources. These resources are one of many recommendations that have been infused into practice to strengthen the communication and relationships the child welfare workforce has with families served by child welfare.

Lived Experience experts interested in joining this stakeholder group may complete the Lived Experience Interest form. This form will connect you to our Lived Experience team to learn more about your experience and opportunities to get engaged.


DCF also supports Parents Supporting Parents (PSP), which is aimed at empowering parents with lived child welfare experience as mentors to parents with children in the child welfare system. Wisconsin is one of the many states to implement this program and this approach is now joined by several others nationally, with local PSP innovation zones currently located in Jefferson, and Rock counties. In addition, DCF provides TA support for Wellpoint Care Network and Eau Claire County to support their training of Lived Experience staff who support efforts for parent engagement.

DCF's Parents Supporting Parents comes from Iowa's detailed approach to working with families; this program aims to produce better outcomes and increase reunification time and efforts for children placed out of the home. Parent Supporting Parents is an innovative way to engage those with Lived Experience in agency or county efforts. If you want to learn more or have questions, please email.


Lived Experience voice is essential to equity efforts. We include diverse perspectives in shaping our child welfare transformation by engaging a variety of voices in addressing barriers to inclusion and service gaps.


Please sign up for the Putting Families First Newsletter to stay updated about Lived Experience efforts.

Many resources exist that encourage and educate on ways to engage those with Lived Experience. The following resources show ways to elevate voices within your county or agency.