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New DSS director hired in Jackson

fr dssdirectorAfter 20 years with the department, Jackson County’s director of social services will be retiring from county employment at the end of the month, but the department won’t want for experienced leadership going forward.

Jennifer Abshire, currently the social work program manager in Jackson County, has worked with Jackson’s Department of Social Services for 24 years and is expected to slide smoothly into the director’s role. 

“I feel really good about it,” said the outgoing director Bob Cochran. “I don’t think the board could have made a better selection.”

The Jackson County Board of Social Services made the selection, receiving nine applications and interviewing the five candidates who were qualified for the position.

Abshire, 59, joined the department in 1992 as a social work trainee, moving through various positions to serve as a child support agent, social work supervisor, human services coordinator and social work supervisor before taking her current position as social work program manager in 2008. Altogether, she has 17 years of leadership experience. 

Though not originally from Jackson County, except for a season spent working as a National Park Service ranger she’s lived there continuously since completing her bachelor’s of criminal justice at Western Carolina University. 

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“I’m one of those who came to Western, graduated, and didn’t leave,” she said. 

Abshire said she’s looking forward to expanding her focus to include all divisions of the 70-employee department, not just the social work arena where she’s spent most of her career. The main challenge she sees going forward is continued adjustment to the N.C. FAST system. N.C. FAST is a computerized system for processing applications for social services, and it’s that’s caused departments statewide quite a bit of heartburn in the past few years. 

“A lot of agencies throughout the state lost workers because of the time constraints, frustration of systems breaking down,” Abshire said. “We’re just now after a year and a half getting comfortable with entering data into the system.” 

Use of the system will soon expand to include programs such as child welfare and adult services. Abshire is hopeful the department will handle the challenge well. 

“I feel very blessed to have worked with Bob (Cochran) for so long. He’s taught me a lot,” Abshire said. 

For his part, Cochran, 58, says that though he’s retiring, he intends to keep working — just not in county government. 

“I still feel like I have a lot to offer, and I want to be part of the solution,” he said. 

Cochran intends to keep his eyes and ears open for the best way to do that. In the meantime, he’s got no worries about the direction the department is headed under Abshire. 

“I think the agency will thrive under her leadership,” he said. 

Abshire will earn a salary of $87,000 per year.

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