Editor’s note: This article is part 1 of the three-part investigative series Dodging Standards from Carolina Public Press, which examines North Carolina local social services agencies hiring workers who don’t meet minimum standards, systemic challenges in hiring for these positions, how other states avoid these concerns and what North Carolina could do differently. This project was made possible in part through financial backing from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.
In 2015, Theresa Slocum was looking for a change of scenery with a familiar feel. Her hometown of Hinsdale in rural southwestern New York state had just 2,100 people in it, so she thought Murphy, in North Carolina’s westernmost county, might be just what she needed.
Then, she saw the job opening for the director of Cherokee County’s Department of Social Services.
“I was excited about it,” she recalled earlier this month. “I was looking to relocate to North Carolina. I had been there a few times and really enjoyed the area.”
She imagined her possible future in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She had also heard that some DSS offices in the western part of the state were struggling and something about investigations — it’s been several years, Slocum explained. With her master’s degree in social work from the University of Pittsburgh and as a licensed clinical social worker with multiple years of supervisory experience, she thought she had a lot to offer Cherokee County.