Call for Abstracts:
A Special Issue of Child Welfare on Authentic Inclusion of People with Lived Experience in Child Welfare Research, Program Design, and Evaluation

Abstract Submission Deadline: August 23, 2024

The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), in partnership with people with lived experience with the child welfare system and with the kind support of The Annie E. Casey Foundation, are pleased to announce a call for abstracts for a special issue of Child Welfare journal on the inclusion of people with lived experience [1] in child welfare research, program design, and evaluation.

This special issue will honor the diversity, equity, and inclusion principles of the National Research Agenda for a 21st Century Child and Family Well-Being System (Research Agenda) developed with support from Casey Family Programs, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the William T. Grant Foundation. A key feature of the Research Agenda initiative was its modeling of a meaningful co-development process between researchers, funders, and people with lived experience. This special issue also will be reflective of CWLA’s commitment to meaningfully involving people who have been impacted by the child welfare system in research and reform efforts.

This special issue also will advance the standards outlined in CWLA’s National Blueprint for Excellence in Child Welfare, which underlie the principles [2] for all of our Standards of Excellence for Child Welfare Services—namely, the standard that asserts that, “Families and communities are actively and meaningfully involved in the design, implementation, and evaluation of all aspects of the child, parent, family, and community well-being system.”

While other special issues of Child Welfare have highlighted research or projects that worked with individuals with lived experience/expertise in their design and implementation, this is the first time that a full special issue will be dedicated to topics and examples of meaningful partnerships with individuals with lived experience. This unprecedented special issue is also unique in that the two guest co-editors are researchers with lived experience: Brittany Mihalec-Adkins, PhD (Research Scientist, Child Trends) and Jessica Elm, MSW, PhD (Like the Tree Consulting LLC). Julie Collins, VP Practice Excellence, CWLA, will serve as the third co-editor. In addition, a diverse group of people with lived experience expertise with child welfare—Alishia Agee-Cooper, Jana Woodiwiss, Norma Hatfield, Robyn Robbins, and Sandra Killett—will serve as a special editorial advisory group and as partners in the development of this special issue.

In recent years, researchers, program developers, evaluators, and policy-makers have increasingly recognized the value of incorporating the perspectives and expertise of people with lived experience with the issues at hand (Watling et al., 2020). The concept of “lived experience expertise” in research (also referred to as “consumer involvement,” “stakeholder engagement,” or taking the form of “advisory boards”) is not new (Wallcraft et al., 2009), but is growing in popularity. Individuals with lived experience can offer insight that would be otherwise unattainable to researchers studying a system or phenomenon from an external vantage point. In recent years, the U.S. Administration for Children and Families—the federal agency overseeing Child Welfare Services operations nationwide—has released memos explicitly acknowledging the need to incorporate lived experience expertise in efforts to improve policy and practice (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2022). The federal Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation has further emphasized its importance, offering best practices for researchers (ASPE, 2022).

Community-based participatory research methodologies are much more evident in health research relative to child welfare research. For example, the involvement of lived experience experts has been identified as particularly beneficial to research efforts aimed at informing social policy and practice related to serving individuals and families in domains such as mental health (Barr et al., 2020; Tapsell et al., 2020; Vojtila et al., 2021), disordered eating (Musić et al., 2022), substance misuse (Honey et al., 2020), and suicide prevention (MacLean et al., 2018).

This special issue of Child Welfare is intended to spark increased interest in participatory methodologies and momentum of its use to help bring more equity into child welfare research. We can only do this if we have the people with lived experience, as well as community members, at the table with the researchers, serving as authentic partners in the research, program development, and evaluation processes.

We are interested in manuscripts that focus on one or more of the following areas:

  • Research that addresses one or more of the Research Agenda gaps, especially the priority gaps, and that meaningfully involves people with lived experience and explores how involving them impacts the outcomes. See for details.
  • Descriptive papers that articulate guiding principles, processes, and ethics that are involved when including people with lived experience. For example, articles that articulate the barriers and challenges to involving people with lived experience in the entire process and solutions for addressing this.
  • Scoping reviews of the child welfare research on involving people with lived experience.
  • Child welfare-related programs that were designed and implemented in full partnership with people with lived experience.
  • Systemic or policy changes that have happened as a result of including people with lived experience, or changes that have been made in order to involve these individuals in the child welfare-related research, program design, or implementation.
  • Systematic review of best practices for the use of participatory methods that involve people with lived experience in child welfare research.
  • Articles examining how the author’s lived experience has influenced the methodologies they use and their approach to the analysis.
  • Concept papers that involve contextual or thematic analysis of existing documents related to child welfare research.

We are particularly interested in articles that demonstrate use of best practices such as: people with lived experience are co-authors; attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion should be evident; acronyms should be spelled out; and person-first language should be used.

The overarching goal of this special issue is to advance our understanding about authentic partnering with people with lived experience in efforts to transform the system to a child, parent, family, and community well-being system.

Prospective authors should submit abstracts of up to 750 words to Rachel Adams, Child Welfare managing editor, at by August 23, 2024. Abstracts should clearly identify the topic, methods (including data sources for empirical papers), expected or preliminary findings, and practice and policy implications. Publication of the special issue will occur in spring/summer 2025.

[1] For the purposes of this special issue, we will use the definition of lived experience outlined in The Equity Assessment and Improvement Tool for Research Teams: “Leaders who have interacted with the child welfare system and gained expertise through lived experiences and whose knowledge, insight, and input uplift high-quality research.”
[2] These will be included in our forthcoming updates to CWLA’s Standards of Excellence.



ASPE. (2022). Methods and emerging strategies to engage people with lived experience. Author.

Barr, K. R., Townsend, M. L., & Grenyer, B. F. S. (2020). Using peer workers with lived experience to support the treatment of borderline personality disorder: A qualitative study of consumer, carer and clinician perspectives. Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation, 7(1), 20.

Honey, A., Boydell, K. M., Coniglio, F., Do, T. T., Dunn, L., Gill, K., Glover, H., Hines, M., Scanlan, J. N., & Tooth, B. (2020). Lived experience research as a resource for recovery: A mixed methods study. BMC Psychiatry, 20(1), 456.

MacLean, S., MacKie, C., & Hatcher, S. (2018). Involving people with lived experience in research on suicide prevention. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 190(Suppl), S13–S14.

Musić, S., Elwyn, R., Fountas, G., Gnatt, I., Jenkins, Z. M., Malcolm, A., Miles, S., Neill, E., Simpson, T., Yolland, C. O., & Phillipou, A. (2022). Valuing the voice of lived experience of eating disorders in the research process: Benefits and considerations. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 56(3), 216–218.

Tapsell, A., Martin, K. M., Moxham, L., Burns, S., Perlman, D., & Patterson, C. (2020). Expert by Experience Involvement in Mental Health Research: Developing a Wellbeing Brochure for People with Lived Experiences of Mental Illness. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 41(3), 194–200.

USDHHS. (2022). A starter kit on engaging people with lived experience in child support programs (p. 10). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families, Office of Child Support Enforcement.

Vojtila, L., Ashfaq, I., Ampofo, A., Dawson, D., & Selby, P. (2021). Engaging a person with lived experience of mental illness in a collaborative care model feasibility study. Research Involvement and Engagement, 7(1), 5.

Wallcraft, J., Schrank, B., & Amering, M. (2009). Handbook of service user involvement in mental health research (Vol. 6). John Wiley & Sons.

Watling, D., Preece, M., Hawgood, J., Bloomfield, S., & Kõlves, K. (2020). Developing an intervention for suicide prevention: A rapid review of lived experience involvement. Archives of Suicide Research, 1–16.