Northwoods Mobilizes Content for Caseworkers Using AWS-Based Application

Northwoods is an APN Advanced Technology Partner

Executive Summary

Northwoods helps Pennsylvania’s Erie County Office of Children and Youth digitize case files, enabling remote caseworkers to serve vulnerable children and families. Northwoods, an AWS Partner Network (APN) Public Sector Partner, helped Erie County implement Traverse, its AWS-based solution that provides access to case files from anywhere.

Helping Caseworkers Find Information Faster

Northwoods Consulting Partners, Inc., is a technology and consulting organization focused entirely on human services. Founded in 2003, Northwoods provides software solutions that help frontline caseworkers manage, collect, view, and share content and data more efficiently. Its primary solution for child welfare is Traverse, an application that uses artificial intelligence to help workers readily access case file information, making it easier to view a child’s case history. “Our solution automatically analyzes the information that caseworkers have collected—including photos, documents, and case notes—in a centralized place,” says Laura Haffield, manager of solution analysts at Northwoods. “As a result, workers can access, search, and find the information they need immediately, whether they’re in the office or in the field at a client’s home.”

An APN Advanced Technology Partner and a member of the Public Sector Partner Program, Northwoods chose AWS early in the development process for Traverse. “We chose AWS because of its market leadership and because of the level of innovation it provides month after month,” says John Schwingle, vice president of business development at Northwoods.

Pennsylvania’s Erie County Office of Children and Youth, a child welfare agency, initially needed a solution to solve its data collection problems. Because of new state laws, Erie County Office of Children and Youth had seen its caseload climb steadily over the past several years, and the organization struggled to keep up with the workload due to outdated manual filing processes. “We were getting more cases, but our workers in the field would sometimes lose track of documents or need to make corrections and then have to travel back to the main office to find the right files or change files before bringing them back to a family’s home,” says Michael Whitney, administrator of intake and placement services at Erie County Office of Children and Youth. “This wasted a lot of time and slowed down our ability to manage all the cases we had. We actually started seeing some turnover because of the problem. We had to cut down wasted time and duplicated processes and increase our efficiency.”

Automating the Flow of Client and Case Information

To address its challenges, the Erie County Office of Children and Youth engaged Northwoods, which implemented Traverse to automate the flow of client and case information and digitize all case files. “Erie County has 180 employees, and they all
need to access case files in order to review them with families in their homes,” says Haffield. “With this solution, employees can use mobile devices to access files easily; collect new data such as photos, forms, and electronic signatures; and refer families for necessary services right away, which builds trust between the caseworker and family.” The mobile application works regardless of connectivity, so caseworkers always have access to the information they need.

During the COVID-19 global pandemic, nearly all of Erie County’s workforce became remote practically overnight. Because Traverse provides caseworkers access to case files from anywhere, the agency was able to quickly pivot and continue serving vulnerable children and families. “We are very fortunate that we took initiatives to work remotely quite some time ago,” says Lana Rees, director at Erie County Office of Children and Youth. “We would be in such a different position without Northwoods. We are very fortunate that we can work so effectively with remote access to all our records.”

Traverse runs on a range of HIPAA and FedRAMP compliant AWS services, including Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) for on-demand compute, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) for data storage, AWS Lambda for serverless compute, and AWS Web Application Firewall (AWS WAF), which protects against common web exploits that may affect availability, compromise security, or consume excessive resources. The highly available solution is provisioned to give customers a logically isolated environment on AWS. “AWS gives us the 24/7 application access and reliability our customers need,” says Schwingle.

Streamlining Case Management and Saving Time

Taking advantage of the Northwoods solution, hundreds of Erie County Office of Children and Youth caseworkers can access files at client sites. As a result, these workers can save time and better stay on top of their caseloads.

The agency has also increased the efficiency of its adoption processes. “Using our previous manual processes, we would often have document errors and therefore have to drive to the office and fix the problems. This could actually delay an adoption by more than one month,” says Whitney. “Now everything is digitized, so if there’s a mistake, we can change it immediately on the app while we’re meeting with children and families.”

Spending More Time Helping Children and Families

Because Traverse automatically analyzes case information, caseworkers and other agency employees can more easily discover the people who are connected to each case and identify placement options for vulnerable children and adults. “We have more file integrity, so there are fewer errors, and it also makes it easy for caseworkers to retrieve files,” says Whitney. “Now we can spend more time with the family assessing a situation and getting the right service providers in place. We have actually seen a 4 percent decrease in the number of children who are in shelters or other care facilities, and we attribute a lot of that to our ability to spend more time with families.”

Northwoods plans to continue using new AWS services as it works to enhance its application. “AWS keeps releasing new services and functionality that we want to take advantage of,” says Schwingle. “We look forward to using some of these services to make our solution even more powerful.”

Erie County Pennsylvania

About Erie County Office of Children and Youth

Pennsylvania’s Erie County Office of Children and Youth works to keep children safe and respectfully engage families by using community-based services and support to help families successfully care for their children.

About Northwoods Consulting Partners, Inc.

Northwoods, based in Ohio, is a technology and consulting organization that provides software to help caseworkers manage, collect, view, and share case information more rapidly and efficiently. Founded in 2003, Northwoods is an APN Public Sector Partner.

Published May 2020