Meet the Navigator: Part One

Rebecca Carr, COMPASS Educational Vocational Navigator

Drug Court participants who come to Rebecca Carr’s office will find she’s ready for them, with snacks and a hot drink maker, pamphlets, resources, and writing supplies. The Drug Court program has provided her with funding to help cover some of their other needs, as well. But the most important resource that Rebecca has for them is herself.

She explains that in her role as Navigator, she’s a part of the Drug Court team. “Imagine it as a circle,” she tells me, “and the team members are all spokes in the wheel.” In addition to Rebecca, those spokes include the Judge, the attorneys, the compliance specialist, the treatment team, and mental health. “We all communicate with each other to make sure that the Drug Court participants understand that this team is working with them, and we’re not out to get them.”

The feeling that authorities and others are against them is common for participants, all of whom have had legal trouble due to their substance use disorders, and some of whom have already spent time incarcerated. They come into the Drug Court program “voluntarily” because the alternative is jail, and they don’t always realize at first that this program is the opposite of punitive.

They discover it quickly, though. Rebecca works with them to complete an Action Plan to determine their needs, barriers, skills, abilities, interests, and personal goals. The short- and long-term goals they set in their plan become the road map they use throughout the program, although it may be adjusted as time goes on.

Concrete plans for the future may not be feasible for some participants during the first few weeks. Many people enter the program with nothing at all. They have no documents or ID, no extra clothes, and no money. Their immediate needs take precedence in these cases.

“If they don’t have an ID, they can’t get a Social Security Card, and if they don’t have a birth certificate, they can’t get a driver’s license. Without the correct ID, they can’t apply for jobs. But they’ve lost everything. They have nothing. 

“So we just start fresh from the beginning.”

Rebecca goes on to explain that in the beginning, many have difficulty with function and understanding because they’re in a brain fog — they’re coming off substances or starting a Medication Assisted Treatment program. They have issues with time, they can’t focus, and when they look at a website to apply for Basic Food or other assistance, they get overwhelmed and shut down. “They go, ‘I can’t do this. I’m not going to do this. It’s impossible to do this. I don’t know how anyone survives.'” When Rebecca hears this, she makes an appointment with them and walks through the process with them one small step at a time.

“Just having someone explain to them what the process is, what they can expect, what they need to ask for exactly…teaching them how to apply for basic food and making that phone call to get the appointment…that’s the biggest thing, a lot of times.” The program may last 18 months, but it depends on factors that include the level of SUD or mental health treatment a person needs, the progress of a participant, and other circumstances.

Not everyone is able to settle into the program smoothly. Some have trouble staying clean, and may need a higher level of care, such as inpatient SUD treatment or MAT. Or they may need mental health help before they have the ability to focus on their SUD treatment, their Action Plan, and the vocational workshops they attend with Rebecca. “With any type of mental health barrier on top of substance use, you can’t just treat one,” she says. “I communicate with their mental health counselor, and I tell them they need to talk to their counselor, too. If their mental health is taken care of, then they can get clean, and if they’re clean and sober, they can have more meaningful conversations with their mental health professionals.”

Rebecca also does what she can to get them other things they need. In addition to the spokes in the wheel, she seeks out services, resources, and assistance in the community. “They usually need way more help in the first phase, maybe sometimes in the second phase, but by the third and fourth phase, they don’t need me as much.”

When her participants succeed — they make the phone calls, fill out the applications, take care of their obligations — they often thank Rebecca, but she turns the praise back on them. “They need to realize that they decided to take the steps, and the outcome is a result of their accomplishments.”

So this is what eliminating barriers looks like for many people: helping them obtain food and a safe place to stay, teaching them how to handle difficult tasks one step at a time, providing them with resources, getting them the right training, and finding employers willing to reject the stigma. This is all they need to remain in recovery and function in society.

Rebecca is a spoke in a wheel full of other spokes, and she is a security blanket. But she is also an important key to recovery and a positive future for many.

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