Social Worker on the Shelf with client
The Social Worker on the Shelf project uses Instagram to show "Linda" in various social work situations and roles throughout the month of December. In this photo, Linda is shown visiting a client who has been incarcerated.
by Stephen Baldridge, Ph.D., LMSW
(Editor's Note: I thought this was such a fun and creative project and use of social media to spread information about social work, so I asked its creator to write about it. Note that The New Social Worker is also on Instagram @newsocialworker.)
Linda is the Social Worker on the Shelf. According to her Instagram account (s_w_ontheshelf), Social Worker on the Shelf is sent by the state board elves every December to magically show the skills/knowledge/ethics of a competent social worker.
Linda started as an idea I had one day after class, when I was talking with my wife. I created her in response to the “Elf on the Shelf” trend that started a few years ago. (Elf on the Shelf is advertised as a "scout" elf that moves around children's homes to watch them and report back to Santa whether they are naughty or nice.) I wanted a way to distract my students from finals and to do something kind of silly to reinforce some of the things we had discussed all semester.
I am always trying new things to help my students learn. Honestly, when I first thought about her, I thought Linda might have been my dumbest idea yet. But my wife and my graduate assistant encouraged me to give it a shot, so I did.
I don’t think I could have ever anticipated the discussion and even controversy that Linda has stirred up. First of all, I have found that Linda is a great tool for me to educate a lot of non-social workers about our field. An example of this is a message I received on Facebook from a former co-worker (a music teacher at an elementary school). She told me her daughter is a social work major and had been following Social Worker on the Shelf on Instagram. She also told me that Linda had helped her understand what social work is and the field her daughter is getting into.
The other thing Linda has done is to educate me. I didn't realize it at the time, but this started when I went to buy Linda (the Social Worker on the Shelf). My girls are too young to play with Barbie dolls, so this was my first experience shopping for one. If you have ever shopped for a Barbie, you probably know how difficult it is to find a Barbie (especially of color) that is dressed in anything close to professional attire. I finally decided to go with the "Fashionista" Barbie, who at the very least had her stomach covered and was wearing a skirt. I thought this was the last of my issues with "dress."
The comments started almost immediately, once I started posting Linda's daily pics at the beginning of December. Every day, I had someone saying something about how she was dressed.
I told my wife almost immediately that I was so sick of hearing about how Linda was dressed. I told her people were missing the whole point of what I was doing because of how she looks, dresses, sits, her hair, and so forth.
I am the definition of privilege. I am a white male who was raised going to private school. I have never been denied a job, harassed, questioned, assaulted, or treated poorly because of my gender or orientation. I will never truly know or experience the struggles faced daily by people of other genders or races. This project, however, has at least given me a peek into the garbage that is perpetuated out there simply because of gender. Turns out that this is a microcosm of the real world.
Saying all of this, Linda has been a blast to do. I love getting the discussion, feedback, comments (both negative and positive) from people about her. It really has been a way to get the message of social work out there in a different way.
You can follow Linda's daily travels through the end of December 2015 on Instagram at s_w_ontheshelf.
Stephen Baldridge, Ph.D., LMSW, is BSSW Program Director and Assistant Professor at Abilene Christian University School of Social Work.