The Lived Experience Network

The largest community of people with lived experience in child welfare that can be engaged and mobilized at critical moments for systems change.

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Who

People with lived experience in child welfare, including current and former foster youth, biological parents, and kin caregivers

Why

To design solutions based on those with the greatest knowledge and understanding of the child welfare system in the process of its transformation

Conditions of Systems Change

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Policy
Resource Flows
Power Dynamics
Practices
Relationships + Connections
Mental Models

The Challenge

Some of the most challenging societal problems we face in society – homelessness, mental illness, incarceration, and human trafficking – all share a common contributing factor: foster care. Critical decisions throughout the child welfare system - from the front lines of direct service to the federal government - are regularly made by people far from the system, rather than by those closest to it; people with lived experience. Data in child welfare is out of touch with the day-to-day realities of people who experience the system, disjointed across states, inconsistently collected, and outdated.

This fundamental disconnect creates fragmented solutions that only address parts of the problem and interventions that do not effectively improve life outcomes for families.

The Action

Building on our engagement with more than 38,000 people with lived experience in 2020 and 2021, the Lived Experience Network is an accessible virtual community among current and former foster youth, biological parents, and kin caregivers.

The Lived Experience Network will allow Think of Us and its partners to create opportunities and pathways for people with lived experience to:

  • Shape and participate in research that sets the tone for child welfare
  • Engage in consultations and catalytic projects in partnership with key federal agencies including the Children’s Bureau and the office of the US Surgeon General
  • Co-design and spearhead interventions that create proof points for how the system can better serve people with lived experience
  • Partner with the ecosystem to influence strategic initiatives by democratizing access to quantitative and qualitative data directly reported by lived experts

The Stats

  • 38,000 people with lived experience are a part of the Network
  • 320 data points are associated with each person, shedding light on their situation and needs

The Results

The Lived Experience Network is in its foundational stages, establishing strategy and processes to serve as a source of truth from which data-driven decisions are made. Thus far, this has included:

  • Establishing the network
  • Hiring a Manager of Lived Experience to meaningfully involve members of our database in research and proximate policy engagements
  • Inviting people with relevant lived experience to participate in narrative change work and research engagements around institutional placements, mental health, investigations, and other key areas of child welfare
  • Engaging the network in town halls, focus groups, and other consultations with important child welfare actors, such as the White House and the Children's Bureau

Centering Lived Experience

The Lived Experience Network is led, facilitated, and built with people with lived experience

Key Stakeholders

  • People with lived experience in child welfare
  • Youth Boards
  • Community based organizations
  • Child welfare advocates

Geographic Location

Virtual, Nationwide

Time Frame

Summer 2021, Ongoing

Budget

Philanthropic
Earned Revenue
Government Contract

Approach

Strategic
Opportunistic

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