The child welfare system can be a labyrinth for children, youth and families - a maze built around ideology, glaring gaps in research and practice, and legacies of white supremacy, colonialism, racism, and classism. What passes for "normal" assumptions about family belonging, "healthy" identity, and pathways to well-being into adulthood become open to question. Longstanding policies and practices in adoption and foster care often marginalize the distinct needs of some young people whose adulthoods are launched without benefit of the basic foundations and supports that many other emerging adults enjoy across the life course.
As an applied researcher, Gina E. Miranda Samuels, Associate Professor at the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, uses critical interpretive methods to explore belonging, identity, and kinship among young people with histories of displacement due to adoption, foster care, and home loss. Her work centers emic (insider) perspectives and has advanced and developed novel conceptual and empirical findings on processes and conditions including relational permanence, survivalist self-reliance, intrafamilial racism, monoracism, ambiguous loss, and the meaning of kinship and home beyond physical, biological, or legal dimensions. As a black mixed race woman who was transracially adopted, and a former child welfare social worker, Miranda Samuels' scholarly work is distinct and deeply informed by the dual expertise of her professional and personal backgrounds.
Her recent co-authored book Multiracial Cultural Attunement (Jackson & Samuels, 2019) comes at an especially timely moment. Across the U.S., demographic trends continue to reveal that increasing numbers of individuals and families identify and live multiracially and multiculturally. Uprisings calling for racial justice in the U.S. (and world-wide) demand that we confront white supremacy both historic and ongoing. Multiracial coalitions within the Black Lives Matter movement, demand an end to the lethal expression of racism prevalent within U.S. systems both structural and personal, calling us all to be race conscious not race evasive. Yet enduring narratives of racism and the resulting racial reckonings, Miranda Samuels says, remain stuck within monocentric black-white dichotomies of race that distort the full scope of white supremacy, including its harmful relevance to persons of mixed race heritage. Jackson & Samuels’ book offers a counterpoint, advancing a cultural attunement model for practice with multiracial persons and families that disrupts monoracism in our doing and undoing of racial injustice. It stands as the only book within the profession of social work that directly identifies the structures of white supremacy, monoracism, and racial essentialism targeting multiracial families and persons, and is the only practice book which does so using an explicitly anti-racist social justice framework.
Her earlier study of mixed race adults adopted transracially is based on interviews of 18-35-year-olds. This published work pointedly articulates the harm enacted by current adoption policies that encourage silence or avoidance of explicit discussions with prospective adopters about race and racism. In particular, societal assumptions pervasive among white adopters that black-white mixed race children face less racism and will easily integrate into white families runs counter to her research. Rather, says Miranda Samuels, color- and race-evasive parenting is more damaging than helpful to healthy development of mixed race children who will face a highly racialized existence into adulthood.
In her foster care research, Miranda Samuels continues to examine how the child welfare system can play a constructive rather than harmful role in building supportive family networks, foster relational permanence, and healing ambiguous losses of home. A key challenge for many young people in foster care is developing a family-based sense of identity and belonging when it is buffeted by childhood displacements from biological parents, siblings, peers, foster homes, neighborhoods and schools. In her monograph, "A reason, a season, or a lifetime: Relational permanence among young adults with foster care backgrounds," she identifies enduring emotional support systems marked by mutual love and trust as what's most needed, and most missing, among many young people in foster care. The study, funded by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, highlights the important role of caseworkers, biological family, and peers and recommends that foster care workers seek to build permanent networks that include biological and foster family members as youth transition to adulthood.
Currently, Miranda Samuels has taken her interests in home loss, identity, and well-being to understanding pathways through physical homelessness among youth and young adults in the U.S. As Co-PI on the national policy-research initiative Voices of Youth Count, she is lead-researcher of the component “Pathways through Housing Instability.” This national qualitative study is the largest of its kind, and uses critical and narrative life course methods to interview 215 young people about housing instability and the social ecologies that shape their experiences. This study’s findings continue to be disseminated widely to academic, policy, practice, and youth-centered audiences and has formed the basis of congressional testimony for the reauthorization of federal policy guiding services to young people experiencing homelessness. The findings from her national and regional reports have been used to reshape narratives about, and practices with, young people experiencing homelessness across the U.S.
Miranda Samuels' work and its impact extend through many networks. She is considered a leading voice advocating for anti-oppressive practices with youth, young people and adults navigating home loss and disruption via child welfare histories of foster care and adoption. She leads trainings, webinars and is regularly an invited speaker and writer on subjects ranging from transracial adoption, multiracial identity development, healing from ambiguous loss of home, critical and interpretive research methods, anti-racist parenting, and relational approaches to child welfare practice. Samuels is cited as an expert resource by local and national media, and is an advocate and student of anti-oppressive and liberatory social work practice, research and teaching.
Yasui, M., Choi, Y., Chin, M., Samuels, G. M., Kim, K. E., and Victorson, D. (2021). Culturally attuned engagement: A qualitative analysis of mental health providers serving Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cambodian immigrant populations. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Social Work.
Jackson, K., ^Snyder, C., Mitchell, F., and Samuels, G. M. (2020). The salience of ethnic minority grandparents in the identity development of multiracial persons. Identity, 20(2), 73-90.
Klodnick, V., & Samuels, G. M. (2020). Building home on a cliff: Aging out of semi-institutional foster care with a serious mental health diagnosis. Child and Family Social Work, 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1111/cfs.12747
Wesley, B., Pryce, J. M., and Samuels, G. M. (2019). Meaning and essence of child well- being according to child welfare professionals. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 37, 425-441.
Curry, S. R., Samuels, G. M., Cerven, C., and Dworsky, A. (2019). Navigating Housing Instability and Substance Use: Hidden Tensions Facing Youth in Small Town America. Journal of Social Service Research. (online first). Doi: 10.1080/01488376.2019.1575322.
Gunn, A., Samuels, G. M. (2018). Familial engagement strategies for navigating recovery identities: The case of mothers with addiction histories. Family Process (online first), 1-17. Doi:10.1111/fam.12413.
- Samuels, G. M.,Cerven, C., *Curry, S. R., & *Robinson, S. R. (2018). “Nothing is for free!”: Youth logics of engagement and managing risk while unstably house. Cityscapes: A Journal of Policy Development and Research, 20(3), 35-68.
- Dworsky, Amy, Morton, Mathew H., Samuels, Gina M. (2018). Missed opportunities: Pregnant and parenting youth experiencing homelessness in American. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
- Morton, Mathew H., Samuels, Gina M., Dworsky, Amy, & Patel, Sonali (2018). Missed opportunities: LGBTQ youth homelessness in America. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
- Morton, Mathew H., Dworsky, Amy, & Samuels, Gina M. (2017). Missed opportunities: Youth homelessness in America. National estimates. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
- Havlicek, Judy, & Samuels, Gina M. (2018). The Illinois state foster youth advisory board as a counterspace for well-being through identity work: Perspectives of current and former members. Social Service Review, 92(2), 241-189.
- Gibson, Katie, Samuels, Gina M., Pryce, Julia. (2018). Authors of accountability: Paperwork and social work in contemporary child welfare practice. Children Youth Services Review, 85, 43-52.
- Curry, Susanna R., Matthew Morton, Jennifer L. Matjasko, Amy Dworsky, Gina M. Samuels, and David Schlueter. 2017. “Youth Homelessness and Vulnerability: How Does Couch Surfing Fit?” American Journal of Community Psychology. DOI: 10.1002/ajcp.12156
- Pryce, Julia, Laura Napolitano, and Gina M. Samuels. 2017. “Transition to Adulthood of Former Foster Youth: Multilevel Challenges to the Help-Seeking Process.” Emerging Adults. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/2167696816685231
- Cushing, Gretta, Gina Miranda Samuels, and Ben Kerman. 2014. "Profiles of relational permanence at 22: Variability in parental supports and outcomes among young adults with foster care histories." Children and Youth Services Review 39(C): 73-83.
- Samuels, Gina Miranda. 2014. "Multiethnic and multiracialism." In Encyclopedia of Social Work Online, Cynthia Franklin, ed. New York: NASW Press and Oxford University Press.
- Voisin, Dexter R., Marlene Wong, and Gina Miranda Samuels. 2014. "A Response to Anastas and Coffey: The science of social work and its relationship to social work education and professional organizations." Research on Social Work Practice 24(5): 581-85.
- McCubbin, Hamilton I., Laurie McCubbin, Gina Samuels, Wei Zhang, and Jason Sievers. 2013. "Multiethnic children, youth, and families: Emerging challenges to the behavioral sciences and public policy." Family Relations 62(1), 1-4.
- Jackson, Kelly E., and Gina M. Samuels. 2011. "Multiracial competence in social work: Recommendations for culturally attuned work with multiracial individuals and families." Social Work 56(3): 235-45.
- Rampage, Cheryl, Marina Eovaldi, Cassandra Ma, Catherine Weigel Foy, Leah Bloom, and Gina M. Samuels. 2011. "Adoptive families." In Normal Family Processes: Growing Diversity and Complexity, 4th ed., Froma Walsh, ed. 222-48. New York: Guilford Press.
- Pryce, Julia M., and Gina M. Samuels. 2010. "Renewal and risk: The dual experience of motherhood and aging out of the child welfare system." Journal of Adolescent Research 25(2): 205-30.
- Samuels, Gina M. 2010. "Building kinship and community: Relational processes of bicultural identity among adult multiracial adoptees." Family Process 49(1): 26-42.
- Samuels, Gina M. 2009. "Ambiguous loss of home: The experience of familial (im)permanence among young adults with foster care backgrounds." Children and Youth Services Review (31): 1229-39.
- Samuels, Gina M. 2009. "Being raised by white people: Navigating racial difference among adopted multiracial adults." Journal of Marriage and Family 71(1): 80-94.
- Samuels, Gina M. 2008. A Reason, a season, or a lifetime: Relational permanence among young adults with foster care backgrounds. University of Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall.
- Samuels, Gina M., and Julia M. Pryce. 2008. "What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger: Survivalist self-reliance as resilience and risk among young adults aging out of fos¬ter care." Children and Youth Services Review 30(10): 1198-210.
- Samuels, Gina M. 2007. "Adoption." In World Book Online Reference Center. World Book, Inc. 21.
- Samuels, Gina M., and Fariyal Ross-Sheriff. 2007. "Identity, oppression, and power: Feminism and intersectionality theory." Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work (23): 5-9.
- Samuels, Gina M. 2006. "Beyond the rainbow: Multiraciality in the 21st century." In Our diverse society: Race and ethnicity – Implications for 21st-century American society, ed. David Wells Engstrom and Lissette M. Piedra. Washington, DC: NASW Press.
- Courtney, Mark E., Ada Skyles, Gina E. Miranda, Andrew Zinn, Eboni Howard, and Robert M. Goerge. 2005. Youth who run away from out-of-home care. University of Chicago. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall Center for Children. Featured in SSA Magazine, June 2009.
- Courtney, Mark E., Ada Skyles, Gina E. Miranda, Andrew Zinn, Eboni Howard, and Robert M. Goerge. 2005. Youth who run away from substitute care. Issue Brief #103. University of Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall Center for Children.
- Miranda, Gina E. 2004. "Reading between the lines: Black-white heritage and transracial adoption." African American Research Perspectives 10(1): 174-187.
- Coleman, Hardin L.K., Romana A. Norton, Gina E. Miranda, and Laurie McCubbin. 2003. "An ecological perspective on cultural identity development." In Handbook of multicultural competencies in counseling and psychology, ed. Donald Pope-Davis, Hardin L.K. Coleman, William Ming Liu, and Rebecca L. Toporek, 38-58. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Miranda, Gina E. 2003. "Domestic transracial adoption and multiraciality." In Multiracial child resource book: Living complex identities, ed. Maria P. P. Root and Matt Kelley, 108-115. Seattle, WA: MAVIN Foundation.
Gina E. Miranda Samuels is a Professor at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. She has been named faculty director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, effective September 1, 2022. Her scholarly interests include transracial adoption, mixed race and multiethnic identity formation, critical and interpretive research methods, and the development of relational, kinship, and cultural ties among young adults whose childhoods are shaped by displacements caused by foster care, adoption, and home loss. Professor Miranda Samuels' scholarship situates these lived experiences in a broader historical, cultural, theoretical and policy context to critically explore how personal identity and well-being are constrained and promoted by policy, practice, and by societal and personal constructions of kinship, family, race and belonging.
Professor Miranda Samuels’ published scholarship appears widely in professional journals, academic books, and within numerous policy and practice-focused papers, monographs and policy briefs. Her work has been cited and used within federal government agencies including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Children’s Bureau, and the Administration on Children Youth and Families, as well as state-wide child welfare agencies across the U.S. She serves as a consulting editor for some of the most rigorous journals in her field including Social Service Review, Children Youth Services Review, Social Problems, Family Process, Journal of Marriage and the Family, Family Relations, and Race and Ethnic Studies. Miranda Samuels is an active Board Member of Creating a Family, a national nonprofit that hosts the longest running and top rated low-to no-cost training for adoptive parents. Over the past 25 years Miranda Samuels has herself delivered training, podcasts, keynote addresses and expert consultation to agencies, organizations, and individuals within and beyond the U.S. She has been the recipient of several teaching and student mentorship awards, and in a 2014 study was named “One of Fourteen Top African American Scholars in Top US Schools of Social Work.” Most recently she and co-author Dr. Kelly F. Jackson were awarded the 2019 “Researcher of the Year Award” by the Multiracial Research Network, ACPA College Student Educators International. At the Crown Family School, she teaches courses on anti-oppressive social work practice, critical and interpretive research methods, family systems theory, and offers continuing education courses in the Professional Development Program on contemporary transracial adoption practice and family systems theory. Since arriving at SSA in 2002, she has remained a practicing advocate of social justice in higher education and is regularly involved in, and led, SSA (now the Crown Family School) and campus-wide social justice reform efforts in partnership with faculty, staff and student colleagues.
Professor Miranda Samuels received her M.S.S.W and Ph.D. in Social Work and Social Welfare at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she received a Council on Social Work Education Minority research fellowship funded through the National Institute of Mental Health. She has practiced in the areas of child welfare, juvenile probation, Afrocentric community- and school-based social work, and family-based group therapy with youth and young adults.