Posted Thursday, April 20, 2017 by Team Northwoods

Two Guys, One Idea, and the Possibility to Help Hundreds of Kids in Need

Here at Northwoods, we’re big believers that our past should always shape our future. This week, we’re sharing a little piece of Northwoods’ history to give you a glimpse into where we’ve been and where we’re heading.

It was 2011 when the software guys from North Baltimore and Cincinnati first shared their seemingly good idea with the director from Fairfield County.   

"Could you imagine if we could give your social workers more time to be in the field?" they asked.

Rich immediately realized the possibilities. The only time he knew for sure the kids under his care were safe was when his workers had the ability to spend as much time with them as possible ... but that almost never happened.

He knew his workers could do a better job if they had more time to be out there engaging with those kids, not stuck back in the office doing paperwork. And he knew right away that these two software guys were onto something big—and that he could help shape it into something even bigger.

So, he agreed to let them learn about the work he did, to learn about the lives of the workers he led, and to learn about the kids they served.

But Gary and Richie didn’t just sit in the agency and talk to workers about their days. They jumped in the car, rode along on home visits, and truly put themselves in the social workers’ shoes to see what they saw, and feel what they felt, every time they went out into the field to interact with families.

After weeks of dedication and learning, they began to develop a great new technology.

Rich bought in and deployed the new technology at Fairfield County, and quickly saw how it made a real difference in the lives of his workers. Even more important, he saw how it made a real difference in the lives of the kids they were serving.

Not surprising, these small-town guys hit it off through working together.

Gary knew that Rich had a passion for helping kids in need and could make a wider contribution as part of their company.

Rich knew that Gary was not just trying to sell him something, but that he cared deeply about making a difference in the world. And he knew that if the two of them joined forces he could have an impact on more kids’ lives ... not just the kids in his own case load, not just the kids in the case loads of the workers he supervised, not even just the kids living in Fairfield County, Ohio. He could help kids across the U.S.

Rich took the leap—seizing the chance to leave the life he knew and daringly set out on a path that had been calling him throughout his professional life.

A couple of years and a lot more smart employees later, Gary, Richie, Rich, and everyone at Northwoods were certainly making a difference.

The agencies using Northwoods’ protective services software could give workers time back in their day.

Time, they knew, that could make kids safer because their dedicated social workers could be more present and engaged in their cases.

Being more present meant being more knowledgeable about the lives of those kids.

Being more knowledgeable meant making better decisions on behalf of those kids.

And then one day, the calling that continued to embed itself more deeply in their minds converged with some information about new technologies that had come into their own. The small-town guys had another big idea:

Could you imagine if we could deliver to social workers knowledge about a child that is buried in paperwork? Could you imagine if we could uncover hidden details of a child’s life that the workers were charged with knowing but that they couldn't possibly know? Could you imagine how that might change the world for the kids they serve?

Fast forward to today, and what was once just a big idea from some small-town guys has become a reality.

During a recent training, a dedicated protective services social worker was learning what this new software—the culmination of these small-town guys’ lives so far—could do.

The worker raced ahead of the scripted material because she wanted to see what this new tool might tell her about a case that had been gnawing at her for weeks.

You see, the details of the case concerned her.

A boy was in a less-than-ideal situation at home, but the worker could not identify any other living situation to send him to that wouldn't completely uproot his life. She didn’t want to cause additional trauma by moving the kid from the home he knew into the home of foster parents he didn't.

What made things even worse is that the social worker was constantly weighing and second guessing her decision to leave the boy at home, in some amount of danger, because she didn't want to traumatize him again by placing him with strangers.

The decision was keeping her up at night.

But this new tool she was learning had the potential to give her knowledge she didn't already have, so she started exploring this kid's life through all the new information she had just gotten her hands on.

It showed her a step-paternal grandmother in another county that she previously knew nothing about.

It showed her this grandmother had cared for the boy through some past summers.

It showed her there was a safe situation for the boy with someone who knew and cared about him, not someone who was a stranger to him.

It showed her she could make a better decision on behalf of the boy than the agonizing one she had been struggling with.

The social worker bravely admitted this story to Rich and the team conducting the training.

It is uncommon that we hear so directly from a social worker about the uninformed decision she had made ... a decision that social workers across the country are forced to make every day. But she let us know because in her hands was knowledge to make a difference in a kid's life, and maybe that meant other workers could find similar knowledge hiding in their case files too.

For Rich, it was the culmination of a career spent dedicated to saving kids.

For Gary and Richie, it was the culmination of a career spent building a company that did more than make money, but create products that could truly make a difference in the world.

Those guys. That kid.

Could you imagine?