Guilford County’s Department of Social Services just got a new director, but the department’s new leader – Sharon Barlow – is no stranger to Guilford County government. 

Barlow will take over the position that was vacated suddenly by former Social Services Director Heather Skeens, who left that job just before Halloween last year. 

Skeens was also serving as the director of the Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services, but Barlow won’t assume Skeen’s role over the Department of Public Health.

The county’s announcement was optimistically subtitled “Preserved Institutional Knowledge Ensures Smooth Leadership Transition,” and, in this case, that seems accurate. Even when Skeens was running the department, Barlow would often make reports to the Board of Commissioners on social services issues, and she has served as interim director of Social Services since the surprise resignation of Skeens.

Barlow, who’s been with Guilford County DSS for a dozen years, began her career in social services at the Caldwell County DSS – in western North Carolina where Lenoir is the county seat.  While there, she worked in Child Protective Services as a social worker and later as a supervisor. 

She now has nearly three and a half decades of social services experience.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to continue serving my community,” Barlow stated in the Tuesday, Jan. 25 press release. “I am very proud of the work we do and continue to be amazed at the commitment of our staff to provide excellent service to the citizens of Guilford County. Long term sustainable change demands that we take advantage of innovative opportunities and creative practices to provide quality services and maintain a quality employee experience. I am committed to working hard to make this happen.”

Barlow was born and raised in Greensboro. She and her husband are members of First Baptist Church in Greensboro and they have two children who are both currently enrolled at Appalachian State University.

Barlow brings “strong leadership skills, a focus on staff engagement, and an emphasis on community collaboration which make her uniquely qualified to take on this new role,” the county’s announcement states.

 According to the county’s job description, she’s responsible for the “implementation of service integration, reduction of county costs and increase of state and federal revenues along with the improvement of technology systems” and Barlow is also expected to “maintain and improve upon the relationships with community agencies and accomplish visionary objectives through collaborative processes.”

The department is a hard one to run.  It deals with difficult, volatile issues every day, has a large number of employees and, roughly a decade ago, was the center of scandal so huge that it could have led to the entire state of North Carolina being cut off from federal food assistance.

The county conducted a search and Barlow “quickly rose to the top of the list,” according to the county’s statement.

Guilford County Assistant Manager Victor Isler, who was hired late last year to that position, stated in the press release, “The interview committee was very impressed by Sharon’s commitment to the agency and well-rounded knowledge of Economic Services and Child Services along with her overall vision around whole person DSS care.”

  He said he sees Barlow as key to Guilford County’s strategic vision of working in collaborative ways with its community partners.

Barlow attended Appalachian State University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in, of course, social work. She says she was drawn to social work after her parents served as foster parents for The Children’s Home Society of North Carolina for 15 years and provided care to over 50 children.