Empowering Social Workers! How Gateway Staff Inspires Action and Leads Change

March 19, 2024

Honoring game-changers

The "who" and "why" behind our team of social workers.

March is Social Work Month and each year we like to highlight some of the amazing work our team members contribute to the field. This month is a time to celebrate the invaluable services social workers across the country provide to children and families in need. At Gateway, our team is trained in trauma informed solutions that help inspire children and families to grow, thrive, remain safely together or forge a path to permanency. Every team member has their own “why” for joining this unique field and their paths to social work has given them a range of skillsets that strengthen our community. 

This month, we’re sharing stories from our team to underscore what it means to be a social worker. This feature focuses on Susan Sibby-Forbes, one of Gateway’s newest team members to our Therapeutic Foster Care program. She has a wealth of experience in foster care, adoptions and preparing families to open their homes to youth in care. 

To learn more about Susan and the rewarding work she is doing, read on!  

How long have you worked with youth/family services and what drew you to it?

I’ve been a licensed clinical social worker for 20 years. My whole career has been in child welfare, primarily in the area of adoption. I grew up in a family that believed in serving others, and finding ways to volunteer and give back was something my family always did. I loved it and was drawn to people who needed help from a young age. I eventually realized I could go into social work and make a career out of helping others.  

What are you most passionate about doing this work?

I am passionate about working with the adoption community. I’m an adult adoptee, and the more I learned about adoption issues, impact of loss and trauma. and navigated my own healing journey, the more I knew I wanted to provide adoption services to help others involved in the process. I have worked directly with foster children, foster parents, adoptees, adoptive parents, and birthparents in various roles. But, I really enjoy working with prospective foster and adoptive parents. I try my best to support them every step of the way. The process is long and complex, but I try to help them make sense of the many issues and challenges and to embrace an attitude of openness. I encourage parents to recognize, value, and honor the connections in a child’s life which requires a lot of empathy. When foster and adoptive parents have the tools and support they need, everyone benefits, but especially the children. We all want to help serve the children, to help them heal from trauma. Every foster parent is a prospective adoptive parent. Helping children achieve permanency -that’s the end goal, that fuels my passion.

What is your main goal as a social worker?

My goal as a licensing specialist is to equip and support families so that they can help the children heal from trauma. Trauma informed parenting is necessary. It’s important that parents are prepared and mindful, especially on how their own traumatic experiences will impact them and the child they are parenting. My goal is to help the families help the children, partnering with them, and providing tools and support along the way.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career so far?

There are a few big lessons I’ve learned over the years. One is to not take it personally when people lash out and say hurtful things.  In those instances, it’s important to hit pause and remember they’re struggling, they’re stressed out, and may be reacting from their own traumatic experiences. Try your best to put your feet in their shoes and respond calmly with a compassionate heart. The second lesson that is just as important is to take care of yourself. Take a break, get some rest, and do something fun. Social work can be emotionally heavy and even exhausting at times.  I personally overwork, and I know I do, because I’m a passionate, all-in type of person. I’ve learned to be deliberate to schedule time to do something fun or to relax just about every day even if it’s only for 10 to 15 minutes. I love gardening, crocheting, devotionals, listening to praise music, and cooking. It helps me decompress and reset. Serving other is very important, but taking care of yourself is necessary for good service work.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting into this field?

When someone feels led to serve others and enjoys it, then pursuing a career in social work may be a great fit. I believe that calling is a gift, and while it’s challenging work, it’s worthwhile and greatly needed. The social work field is evolving, and there’s a variety of great training and internship opportunities today. Take time to assess what you are led to contribute to. Ask what is most meaningful to you, what breaks your heart the most, and that may help you discover your lane, your passion.  Sometimes we are drawn to a certain area because of our personal experiences and that’s common in social work.  Volunteering is a great way to start exploring options.  Many people want to help children in foster care. There are countless ways to give back and contribute to agencies like Gateway beyond just fostering that are a huge help. You can have a yard sale and donate proceeds, host a toy drive, a luggage drive, or make blankets for foster children. Volunteer work is a great way to put a heart for service into action. If you want to build that into a career, social work is a great choice! 

Is there anything else you would like to share about your journey that we haven't touched on?

I believe in serving others, and that we all have something we can contribute to make our community and world a better place. If someone feels led to serve, go for it and act on it! There’s always a need for volunteers-- your help is needed. Everybody has gifts and talents to share, you just have to find your something!