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Posted Monday, July 20, 2020 by Matt Leasure

Brunswick County Enables Social Work from Anywhere with Traverse

Ask any human services agency the right time to introduce new technology and you’ll be met with hesitation. Leaders already worry that this type of major change may interrupt service delivery. Add the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across our communities and everything becomes even more uncertain.

While some agencies have been cautious to prioritize and invest in technology amid COVID-19, the leadership team at Brunswick County Department of Social Services (DSS) felt the opposite.


Rich Ohmer, Brunswick County DSSWhen reports of child abuse and neglect went down as the pandemic began to unfold, they recognized the opportunity to get a new tool in place that would help social workers respond quickly and in the most meaningful way when those reports inevitably picked back up.

“We know there's never a perfect time to introduce a new technology program,” said Rich Ohmer, social work program administrator. “But the right pieces came together, and things slowed down a bit, so we decided to do it now.”

Brunswick County DSS has provided 40 social workers in child and adult protective services (along with their supervisors, program manager, administrator, and several administrative and legal team members) with Traverse®, Northwoods’ solution for child welfare, to support telework and enable social work from anywhere.

As detailed below, Traverse brings immediate support, assistance, and relief to overburdened frontline workers so they can focus on families, even when in-person contact is limited.

Brunswick County’s executive team had the foresight to invest in modernizing the agency’s technology long before COVID-19 emerged, so the county had already approved budget for Traverse in the 2020 fiscal year. Once the state approved Brunswick County’s request to move forward, it was simply a matter of getting things going as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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Traverse Supports Telework, Remote Teams, and Meaningful Services

Social workers use Traverse to access case content and information from anywhere, anytime. Social workers can also scan and upload new documents, take photos, capture audio or video, complete and sign forms electronically, and collaborate with clients or supervisors—all regardless of location or level of connectivity. They can refer families for necessary services right away, which builds trust and helps families quickly receive the help they need.

All of this is especially helpful for Brunswick County DSS’ social workers who began working from home in March and are now in a great position to continue doing so as long as necessary.

Besides helping support telework, Ohmer says the technology will help in three key areas:

  • Rich Ohmer, Brunswick County DSSMining critical case information. Social workers can access all case content and history, including critical, but hidden details that have been buried over time, from anywhere. They can apply this holistic view of the case to making informed, confident decisions focused on safety and outcomes. "We've had issues in the past where we've missed certain things because it's hard to pick out specific information when you're reading through a bunch of documents,” Ohmer said. “With Traverse, being able to quickly scan and search for information and filter results to narrow in on certain topics, keywords, or document types will be helpful."
  • Improving collaboration with supervisors. Supervisors can quickly get a high-level understanding of what’s going on with each of their workers’ cases, with the ability to dig deeper into specific pieces of content for more detailed information and context. Ohmer says it’s especially helpful that supervisors can narrow down their searches by content type—for example, solely looking at narratives from home visits—to make sure they have the most relevant information to the unique situation a worker needs help with managing.
  • Creating consistency with forms. Like most agencies, Brunswick County DSS’ social workers need to manage state, county, and outside agency/provider forms. While forms in Traverse are designed to match what’s required for the state system, each social worker still has flexibility to interact with a form the way they need to depending on their situation. "Traverse will create consistency, which is an issue we've had in the past,” Ohmer said. “Forms will have a clear format, so it'll be quicker and more intuitive to fill them out. With narratives, workers can write as much as they need without having to try to fit it within a certain space or text box."

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Remote Implementation to Move Quickly While Minimizing Risk

Northwoods’ professional services team can fully implement Traverse remotely so caseworkers can start seeing benefits right away. Remote implementations are typically delivered in a condensed time frame, which for Brunswick County DSS was eight weeks.

Rich Ohmer, Brunswick County DSS

The agency’s decision to implement remotely was partially due to circumstance, but also a strategic move to support their goal of getting Traverse in place as quickly as possible.

Ohmer says there’s still uncertainty around the long-term impact of COVID-19 and when the county or state will fully resume operations as usual, so "we chose the 8-week implementation so that we're through the process and ready to go whenever reports pick back up.”

Despite initial concerns that social workers may not be comfortable adopting a new tool and processes without in-person training and support, Ohmer said the implementation went smoothly because the Northwoods team was always available to answer questions and the software was so easy to learn.

"There's a learning curve and things are different than what a lot of workers are used to. But it's pretty intuitive, so I don't think that’s an issue,” he said. “The benefits and ease of use outweigh the challenges."

The condensed timeline has also encouraged Brunswick County DSS’ social workers to get all of their documentation current and caught up before restrictions lifted and the usual level of activity resumed.

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Traverse for North Carolina

Northwoods has established partnerships with over 40 county agencies across North Carolina. Building on this history of innovation, Traverse modernizes child welfare service delivery and empowers social workers across the state to do high-value direct service work with children and families.

Brunswick County DSS is one of three counties in North Carolina that has invested in Traverse to help staff telework, prioritize safety, and deliver mission-critical services.

Pitt County Department of Social Services wrapped up their implementation at the beginning of July and Wilson County Department of Social Services is on track to finish in August.

Interested in learning how Traverse can help your agency? Check out these additional resources:

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Matt Leasure, Manager, Solution Project Managers, Northwoods

Matt Leasure, Northwoods' manager, solution project managers, leads an implementation team dedicated to delivering solutions designed for child and adult protective services. As Matt works closely with agencies to place intuitive technology in the hands of their frontline social workers and supervisors, he and his team focus their efforts on applying a genuine understanding of the unique business processes familiar to the field of child welfare. Since 2011, Matt’s strong commitment and dedication to helping those who serve families and children has been his driving force as he has worked with countless organizations throughout the country.

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