Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Social Work Research







Publisher Name

Oxford University Press


Drawing on political opportunity theory, this study examined how the political context created by the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests influenced social workers’ perceptions about social welfare policy and political participation in the summer of 2020. Authors conducted a thematic analysis of the open-ended survey responses of 120 social work practitioners. Regarding perceptions of policy, respondents reported that they experienced new awareness about the breadth and depth of structural racism in the United States; that they held pessimistic views of the government’s ability to mitigate harm associated with the pandemic or racial injustice; and that structural change, including the expansion of the social safety net, was needed. Regarding participation, respondents described how they used new forms of political engagement in part because of social distancing, but even more so because they were motivated by highly visible acts of racial injustice. At the same time, they experienced barriers to participation including a fear that they were not adequately prepared and asked for additional support from social work professional organizations. Respondents believed that more education is needed about racial justice and political action. These findings have important implications for social work education and practice, especially work to promote social justice.


Author Posting © National Association of Social Workers, 2023. This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced version of an article accepted for publication in Social Work Research following peer review. The version of record for "Krings, A., Wathen, M. V., & Kilbane, T. (2023). How COVID-19 and Racial Justice Protests Influenced Social Workers’ Perceptions of Policy and Political Participation. Social Work Research, 47(4), 261-273." is available online at:

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Available for download on Monday, December 01, 2025