The child welfare system can be a labyrinth for foster children and adoptees - a maze built around sometimes inadequate research, poor information and ideology. What passes for "normal" assumptions about families and "healthy" racial identities is open to question. Longstanding policies that promote colorblindness in adoption and practices that overlook the unique needs of foster children whose adulthoods are launched without a legally permanent family should be re-examined.
In her ground-breaking research, Gina M. Samuels, an associate professor at the School of Social Service Administration, examines two broad themes: identity development among transracial adoptees and the "aging out" of young adults from foster care. As a multiracial adoptee and past child welfare worker, Samuels' scholarly work is distinct, informed by her professional and lived experience.
Her study of multiracial adoptees, based on interviews of 18-35-year-olds, pointedly questions current adoption policies that encourage colorblindness. In fact, assumptions that multiracial children will easily integrate into white families and face less racial stigma runs counter to her research. Rather, finds Samuels, colorblind parenting may well be more damaging than helpful to children. Yet many adopting parents - even more so than placement workers - downplay the role of race in raising their multiracial children, leaving children to navigate these dynamics on their own.
Her transracial adoption research - "Being raised by white people: Navigating racial difference among multiracial adopted adults," published in the Journal of Family and Marriage - comes at an especially timely moment. The election of a biracial president will certainly elevate discussions of race in society - and, this just after the release in the spring of 2008 of a report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which is highly critical of federal legislation removing race from the equation of adoption placement decisions. Culturally relevant adoption practice, says Samuels, requires a level of "nuance" which is very difficult to legislate.
In her foster care research, Samuels is studying how the child welfare system can play a constructive role in building supportive family networks for young adults aging out of care. A key challenge for foster children is developing a family-based sense of identity, buffeted as they often are by influences from biological and foster parents, siblings, and peers. In her paper, "A reason, a season, or a lfetime: Relational permanence among young adults with foster care backgrounds," she finds that dependable emotional support systems are what's most needed by foster youth - and most missing. The study, funded by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, recommended that foster care workers seek to build permanent networks that include biological and foster family members, highlighting the important role of caseworkers as youth transition to adulthood.
Samuels' work and its impact extend through many networks. She regularly speaks to adoption agencies and teaches in the Professional Development Program at SSA. Samuels is cited as an expert resource by local and national media, and is consulting editor for a number of journals including, Child Welfare. She currently serves as a member of the Illinois Adoption Advisory Council and is a board affiliate of the MAVIN Foundation, a national organization addressing the needs and concerns of multiracial populations and transracial adoptees in the U.S.
Gina Miranda Samuels is an Associate Professor at the School of Social Service Administration and a Faculty Affiliate of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture. Her scholarly interests include transracial adoption, mixed race and multiethnic identity formation, interpretive research methods, and the development of relational, kinship, and cultural ties among young adults whose childhoods are shaped by foster care and adoption. Professor Samuels' scholarship situates these lived experiences in a broader socio-historical, cultural, and theoretical context to critically explore how personal identity and well-being are constrained and promoted by child welfare policy and practice and by societal and personal constructions of race and family. Professor Samuels' makes use of interpretive methods of research to inform foster care and adoption practice and policy.
Professor Samuels is currently involved in several research projects: a state-wide study of child welfare professionals' conceptions and practices of wellbeing, a national study of multiracial adult transracial adoptees to explore racial and cultural identity development, racial socialization, coping strategies, and broad outcomes of well being, funded by the Heller Research Award; a study of Illinois youth with histories of running away from their foster homes to understand where youth run and why; a three-state mixed-method longitudinal study of broad outcomes among youth aging out of foster care in the Midwest, funded by the W. T. Grant Foundation, and a national study seeking to understanding the relational networks of young adults with foster care backgrounds, funded by Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative.
Currently she is a Board Affiliate of MAVIN Foundation, a national organization addressing the needs and concerns of multiracial populations and transracial adoptees. Professor Samuels serves as a consulting editor for Child Welfare, Children Youth Services Review, Family Process, Marriage and the Family, Family Relations, and Race and Ethnic Studies. At SSA, she teaches courses on direct social work practice, interpretive research methods, family systems theory approaches to practice, and teaches continuing education courses in the Professional Development Program on transracial adoption and family systems theory.
Professor 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 social work in the areas of child welfare and child protective services, juvenile probation, Afrocentric school-based tutoring programs, and group therapy with female youth.