Supporting Families in Crisis
by the College of Education at Illinois / May 10, 2018
Prior to starting her doctoral studies at Illinois, Deserai Miller was most familiar with the field of special education through her hands-on work as a school social worker.
As she has pursued her doctorate, Miller said she now has a much more well-rounded view of her field of work and study, which centers on children who have experienced trauma, a group that is four times more likely to receive special education services than the general population.
“Through my work as a Ph.D. student, I have created a more holistic picture of this topic by identifying what the current research says in this area, and where we need to go as a field,” she said. “As a person, I am more thoughtful in my decision-making, and more conscious of the importance of understanding all aspects of a problem.”
Miller hails from Chicagoland but is a longtime resident of the Champaign-Urbana area. She has worked at private residential schools for children with learning disabilities, at a therapeutic day school for kids with emotional disabilities, and in a public middle school.
Prior to receiving her master’s degree at the School of Social Work at Illinois, Miller was a case manager for adults who had mental-health concerns. Though this was a different area than her future working experiences, Miller said it helped her formulate a deeper understanding of people’s needs across the lifespan.
After receiving her doctorate, Miller wants to keep conducting research that will push forward the support of children who have experienced trauma.
“We have a unique opportunity to provide trauma-informed supports to children who truly need it,” she said. “Through research in this area, we can make practice and policy changes that will better support the well-being of many children and their families.”
Miller lives in Savoy with her husband, Caleb, and their two children, a daughter and a son, ages 7 and 4, respectively. Through her many professional experiences in social work, she has come to see that providing support that directly targets trauma is important for her team of special education colleagues to know about, not just those who specialize in social work. She appreciates that her doctoral studies have helped make this happen.
“I am grateful for all of the experiences I have had while completing my Ph.D. I have had an opportunity to work alongside amazing faculty, all of whom have the best interest of kids in mind,” she said.