NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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Ruth G. McRoy
Ruth G. McRoy

Pioneering Contributions

Ruth McRoy, PhD, MSW, in an almost half-century of social work practice, research, teaching and leadership, has made her mark on the social work profession, on the lives of adopted children, and on strategies to promote effective and sustainable community-university partnerships as well as interprofessional collaborations. 

Spurred on by her experiences as a new MSW social worker working at Kansas Children’s Service League, Ruth quickly realized how little was known about adoption, what the best placements were, and what was known about the long-term outcomes for adopted children and their families. She saw that there was an insufficient body of research to inform adoption practices, and wanted to ensure that decisions were being made that were in the best interests of the child, especially related to racial matching and privacy. Thus, beginning with her doctoral dissertation, “A Comparative Study of the Self-Concept of Transracially and Inracially Adopted Black Children” in 1981, she began a long-term collaboration with psychologist and Rudd Professor (in Adoptions) Harold Grotevant (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), making significant contributions to our knowledge about adoption.

Her work has included examination of transracial, inracial, open, special needs, and international adoptions. On her own, with Dr. Grotevant, and with numerous other collaborators and mentees, Ruth’s research contributions have examined adoption outcomes over time, following cohorts of adopted children and their families, making significant contributions to our understanding of the intricacies of adoption for birth parents, adoptive families and adopted children.

Her books specific to adoption, several with co-authors, published between 1983 and 2016 include—Transracial and Inracial Adoptees: The Adolescent Years; Emotional Disturbance in Adopted Adolescents: Origins and Development; Openness in Adoption: New Practices New Issues; Openness in Adoption-Exploring Family Connections; Special Needs Adoptions: Practice Issues and Transracial and Intercountry Adoptions: Culturally Sensitive Guidance for Professionals. She is co-editing a Child Welfare textbook entitled Introduction to Child Welfare: A Culturally Responsive, Multisystemic, Evidence-Based Approach.

She also has served on numerous boards and working groups, notably the North American Council on Adoptable Children and the Evan B. Donaldson Institute. Ruth leads the evaluation efforts of AdoptUSKids. Funded by the Children’s Bureau for more than 15 years, AdoptUSKids is a national project that supports child welfare systems and connects children in foster care with families—strengthening the adoption of children and youth from the foster care system. Over the course of Ruth’s career much has changed in the field of adoption, especially related to open adoptions and her research has made a major contribution in that area. Beyond her leadership in the field of adoption, Ruth’s expertise transcends the overall field of child welfare, and she also is a leader in work related to diversity, racial equity and culturally competent practice, especially in child welfare. Some of her collaborations in this work have been with other social work professionals and faculty including Rowena Fong, Carmen Ortiz-Hendricks, Howard Altstein, Kathleen Belanger, Yolanda Padilla and Michelle Hanna. 

Ruth served on the Board and scientific advisory committee of the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research (IASWR), an organization that I directed from 2000-2009. At the time she was not just a highly regarded adoption researcher, she also was the well-respected Associate Dean for Research at the University of Texas at Austin and an Endowed Professor. Ruth’s expertise was often sought by other schools of social work as they worked to develop their research infrastructure, especially in regard to support for doctoral students and early career faculty, as well as partnering with community agencies. 

Ruth’s 97 page Curriculum Vitae is itself a statement on a pioneering career with pages and pages of important publications, presentations, funded research, consultations and mentorship. She has chaired more than 20 dissertations and served on more than 80 committees, not just at Boston College and the University of Texas at Austin, but also at Smith College and Tufts University, and in fields beyond social work. Looking at the list of mentees, one sees many people who have gone on to be important scholars and social work leaders today. 

Her academic career includes holding Endowed Chairs at both Boston College and the University of Texas at Austin. At Boston College, she started out as a part-time consultant in 2005, and as her potential for future contributions to the school, its faculty and its students became clear, she was selected  to be the Donahue and DiFelice Endowed Professor in 2009, a position she held through 2018. Since 2005 she also has continued as a Research Professor at the University of Texas, Austin and is the Ruby Lee Piester Centennial Professor Emerita, where she continues many collaborations and also leads the federally funded AdoptUSKids evaluation team. 

She has served as an advisor to the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work’s Center on Race and Social Problems, has chaired the Council on Social Work Education's publications committee, as well as its Center for Diversity and Racial and Economic Justice, and also has Co-Chaired the Society for Social Work and Research’s Child Welfare Special Interest Group.

Career Highlights

Ruth highlights numerous areas of expertise, and is knowledgeable and a resource on all of these. She is not just focused on practice, policy, research, or teaching and training. She understands and promotes their integration and interconnection. Her specific areas of interest include: Child Welfare Issues and Policy; Cross-Cultural Studies; Clinical Social Work Practice; Child Development; Symbolic Interaction Theory; Adoptive and Birth Family Relationships; Vulnerable Families and Children; Diversity and Equity; Environmental Justice; Permanency for Children in Foster Care; Transracial Adoptions; Open Adoptions; and Recruitment and Retention of Adoptive Families.

Ruth has contributed to the profession by being a leader in the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research (IASWR), the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR), the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education (GADE), the American Academy for Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW), the Council on Social Work Education, the Child Welfare League of America, the Evan B.  Donaldson Adoption Institute, Black Administrators in Child Welfare, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, and several other entities. She is a long time NASW member and a presenter at state and national NASW conferences. Many of these are not elected positions, but she has been a sought after member because of what she has to contribute.

Not one to sit back, Ruth has been fully engaged in multiple ways with the Grand Challenges for Social Work Initiative, launched in 2014, and serves as the Co-Lead on the National Network for the Grand Challenge: Achieve Equal Opportunity and Justice, 2016-2019. Ruth has not only used her expertise within the social work profession, she also has been a key source to the media and her Curriculum Vitae includes three pages of newspaper, Television, and radio interviews on a range of topics at the local, regional, national, and international levels.

As mentioned, she is a sought after guru on how to help doctoral students and faculty engage with community agencies to carry out research and develop effective partnerships. Through numerous presentations and publications she has helped social work researchers achieve success. Some of her advice includes:

  • identifying faculty with specific research interests and expertise (child welfare, substance abuse, mental health, school social work, etc.) and linking with agencies providing services in these areas;
  • identifying faculty with expertise in serving and/or conducting research with specific minority populations and linking with agencies serving these populations;
  • working to address the challenges and barriers to effective partnerships including;
  • developing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU);
  • leveraging training programs;
  • establishing clear parameters for project time frames;
  • building relationships/clear parameters for time frames;
  • establishing procedures for review of publications/presentations for research; and,
  • handling Institutional Review Board issues.

Biographical Information

Ruth was born in 1947 and was the valedictorian of her high school class in 1964. She received a BA Degree from the University of Kansas in 1968, an MSW degree from the University of Kansas in 1970, and a PhD from the University of Texas, Austin in 1981. She started her academic career at the University of Kansas, spent some early career time at Prairie View A&M University, and then went to Texas where she received her PhD and had a 25-year career teaching at the University of Texas. In 2005 she left the University of Texas, Austin to move to Sacramento, California, to join her husband, maintain a role as a research professor in Texas, and with a few consultation opportunities planned. One of those consultations was with Boston College, which then led to a full-time academic position, an endowed chair, the development of strong relationships with the Boston community and an critical role as faculty member and dissertation chair for numerous doctoral students. 

Links to Ruth’s biography and accomplishments can be found at the following sites:

Significant Achievements and Awards

Her Curriculum Vitae includes a full page of honors that occurred prior to 2004, and the following honors since 2004: 

  • February 12, 2004: Sarnat Lecturer, University of Southern California School of Social Welfare.
  • 2004: University of Southern California’s Flynn Prize for Social Work Research, University of Southern California School of Social Welfare.
  • March 29, 2004: Invited Speaker, The First Distinguished Social Work Black Family Lecture, Fayetteville State University, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Department of Social Work.
  • March 6, 2005: T. George Silcott Lifetime Achievement Award, Black Administrators in Child Welfare, 2005 Annual Conference, Arlington, Virginia.
  • April 19, 2005: Invited Speaker, Penn State College of Health and Human Development Annual Speaker Series, Penn State University, University Park, Pennsylvania.
  • 2005-Present: Ruby Lee Piester Centennial Professor Emerita, The School of Social Work, The University of Texas at Austin.
  • January 13, 2006: Distinguished Achievement Award, Society for Social Work  and Research, SSWR Annual Conference, San Antonio, Texas.
  • 2006 – 2015: Senior Research Fellow, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.
  • 2007: University of Texas Outstanding Alumna Award, The University of Texas at Austin Graduate School.
  • 2010– Present: Member/Fellow, American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW).
  • October 15, 2010: Outstanding Scholar in Adoption Award, St. John’s Adoption Conference.
  • October 10, 2012: U. S. Children’s Bureau’s Adoption Excellence Award to Adoption Exchange Association and AdoptUSKids Partners.
  • November 11, 2012: CSWE Council on the Role and Status of Women in Social Work Education Mentor Recognition Program Award Recipient.
  • 2013: U.S. Children’s Bureau’s  Adoption Excellence Award: Individual/Professional Recipient. 
  • 2014: Charles I. Wright Alumna of the Year Award Recipient, University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work.
  • 2014: North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) Child Advocate of the Year Award.
  • 2015: National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) Award for Significant Contributions to the African American Community (Presented at the 2015 Gerald K. Smith Social Issues Symposium at the 2015 NABSW Conference).
  • 2016: Class of Fellows of the Society for Social Work and Research. 

Significant Publications

  • Co-Author of numerous working papers of the Grand Challenges for Social Work Initiative.
  • Co-Lead of the National Network for the Grand Challenge: Achieve Equal Opportunity and Justice, 2016-2019.
  • Social Work Practice with Black Families.  White Plains, New York:  Longman, Inc.
  • Does Family Preservation Serve A Child’s Best Interests
  • Intersecting Child Welfare, Substance Abuse and Family Violence: Culturally Competent Approaches. 
  • Challenging Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare: Research, Policy, and Practice
  • Examining Racial Disproportionality Through Research:  A Handbook for Social Work Education

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.