Social work is grappling with two pandemics: COVID-19 and racism

Jun 5, 2020

June 5, 2020

7188 cswe_SocialWorkResponds_banner_1500x500_v2

About Social Work Responds

The Association of Social Work Boards, the Council on Social Work Education, and the National Association of Social Workers are committed to collaborating on the range of issues affecting the social work profession and the people and communities we serve in this ever-changing and unsettling environment created by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

Follow Up 

Based on previous Social Work Responds emails and calls to action, our organizations want to share critical follow up information.

  • The CSWE Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) are updated every 7 years, and work has already begun on updating standards for 2022. We are calling on CSWE’s members, educators, social workers, and others to help us provide EPAS, resources, and guidance that support our profession’s ideals.  We must take this moment to honestly examine how social work curriculums go beyond teaching an appreciation for physical or cultural diversity and empower the next generation of social work practitioners to dismantle institutional racism.
  • ASWB: As of June 5, exam candidates may once again register for the exams online, purchase online practice tests, and access other online services at

Two Pandemics

Microscopic view of Coronavirus, a pathogen that attacks the respiratory tract. Analysis and test, experimentation. SarsSince the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May, daily protests have taken place around the world as people express their shared grief and outrage at the growing number of unarmed African Americans who have died recently at the hands of police.

These recent wounds have opened up deep societal scars as we are in the middle of two pandemics that disproportionately affect communities of color. COVID-19 has claimed more than 100,000 American lives, and unequal access to quality medical care has contributed to the incredibly disproportionate impact of COVID-19 among traditionally underserved Black and Brown populations. The other pandemic – institutional racism – has been responsible, in some way or another, for untold fatalities for more than 400 years.

There is no end to the cacophony of content, information, opinions, and images coming at us from news and social media. Faced with these two pandemics, each requiring urgent attention and action, social workers may find it difficult to know what to do first. We would like to offer a focal point for social work students, practitioners, educators, regulators, and others.

Social workers challenge social injustice. It’s right there in our Code of Ethics: social workers have a professional and moral obligation to address and end racism. We are not able to be neutral.

Social justice and nondiscrimination also infuse professional regulation. Codes of conduct protect the public and strengthen the code of ethics by transforming aspirational goals to specific, legally enforceable obligations. Licensed social workers may not discriminate, or they risk loss of their license and the ability to practice. The code of conduct’s nondiscrimination clause in ASWB’s model law clearly states: “A social worker shall not discriminate against a client, student, or supervisee on the basis of age, gender, sexual orientation, race, color, national origin, religion, diagnosis, disability, political affiliation, or social or economic status.”

Educational and Creative composition with the message Stop RacismPreparing to practice anti-oppressive social work begins in our social work classrooms. The more than 800 accredited baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral programs of social work educate students about promoting diversity and inclusion in practice, and advancing human rights and social justice. They learn the forms and mechanisms of oppression and discrimination and recognize how society’s institutions and structures can marginalize and alienate, or create privilege and power. They also learn how to take action to eliminate oppressive structural barriers, ensuring that all human rights are protected.

Whether social workers join the ranks of community agencies, schools, hospitals, and other interdisciplinary workplaces, or are in independent private practice, they provide services to clients of every socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural background.  To ensure that they are meeting clients where they are, social workers constantly must evaluate their own biases and assumptions about other people’s experiences, their strengths and the diverse cultures that sustain them.  And if our workplaces do not offer an equally respectful environment for staff and clients, it is our duty to lead efforts that meet new standards of practice excellence.  Ongoing personal and professional development in anti-racist behavior, cultural humility, and understanding must be a priority.

Much work remains to be done to end racism. Social workers are up to the challenge.

“With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

– Martin Luther King Jr. “The Other America.” March 14, 1968


Center on Race and Social Problems (CRSP) at the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work. CRSP was founded by  Larry E. Davis, PhD, LCSW, and conducts applied, community-based research in race and ethnicity from a social work perspective and offers a variety of resources and programs.

Achieving Racial Equity: Calling the Social Work Profession to Action (NASW Social Work Policy Institute, May 2014). This report summarizes the recommendations of the Social Work Policy Institute’s symposium.

“Institutional Racism and the Social Work Profession: A Call to Action.”  (NASW, 2007). Work has begun on a revised toolkit and a series of forums as part of NASW’s social action agenda.

Putting Social Work Values to the Test — ASWB’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” by  ASWB Examination Development Director Lavina Harless, LCSW, appears in the May/June issue of Social Work Today.


Related Posts

February 2: Time for New Outreach to Social Workers

October 29: We Want to Hear from You!

July 30: Reopening Ahead of a Fourth Wave

April 30: Suppressing Voter Suppression

February 26: Essential and Valued

January 29: A Vaccine Is Not a Cure

December 1: Election 2020: Wins All Around!

October 16: How do you eat an elephant…?

October 9 – Creating an Inclusive Economy

September 25 – We ‘have a way to go’ to achieve racial equity in social work

September 11 – Social Work and School Reopening

August 24 – Each One Register One

August 7 – Ensuring All Levels of Self-Care

July 24 – Will the Pandemic Cause Mental Trauma?

July 10 – Interprofessional Health Care Model Responds to Both Pandemics

June 19 – This Is Who We Are

May 15 – Let’s Call It What It Is…Telesocialwork

April 30 – What’s the Meaning of This?

April 24 – Social Worker COVID-19 Survey

April 17 – COVID-19 and Social Justice

April 10 – Reinforcing the Essential Nature of Social Work

April 3 – Balancing “Essential” with Safe and Ethical

March 27 – COVID-19 Telehealth: Providing Mental Health Support Safely, Ethically and Competently

March 20 – Social Work in this Unprecedented Time

NASW Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill 2024

NASW Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill 2024

  By Rachel Boyer, MSW, LMSW Ahead of the 2024 NASW National Conference, more than 200 social workers from 36 states and one U.S. Territory attended 172 meetings with Congressional offices in both the U.S. House and Senate on June 18, 2024. The purpose of these...