With the utter disarray that surrounds all of us right now with the COVID-19 Pandemic sweeping not only the world, but right here at home in the U.S., each state, county and municipality is impacted in different ways and on different levels. The impacts are especially felt in the community supervision world to varying degrees and probably the hardest hit—but not as visible—are the effects this can have on participants in problem-solving, treatment or recovery courts.
Under the best of circumstances, recovery is a struggle filled with setbacks, relapses and regrets. During that journey, participants also find ways to succeed, stride forward and discover new strengths they had hidden. However, even under the best of circumstances, recovery is a daunting task with temptations and cravings that can build over time.
The current situation in which we all find ourselves right now is a struggle for anyone, but now imagine if you are someone that faces a substance use disorder, gambling problem or trouble with anger management. These stressful times present a troubling obstacle to those participants that battle addictions in any form. Here are three things we can do to help those we serve get through these unprecedented times:
- Let them know they are not alone. Looking on Twitter and other social media you can follow the hashtag #AloneTogether trending nearly every day, and it has been a mantra of a number of politicians and celebrities. But now more than ever is this true. We feel isolated from the world with our only outside contact being virtual—on social media, face timing and watching the news which on its best day is filled with doom and gloom. No one is alone and they shouldn’t be, especially those struggling with the turmoil of addiction, anger or mental health issues.
- Provide them resources to participate in meetings and other groups. A number of organizations have adapted to our current world of “stay home, stay healthy” and have begun doing meetings and even therapy online. There are a number of directories and resources in different jurisdictions and sometimes they can be hard to find. Effectiveness of meetings could reduce without the face-to faces interaction though, so make sure you measure your expectations against the personality of your participants.
- Give your participants constant encouragement. This one can be tricky! All over the country, we are shutting down offices and not allowing face to face meetings. Participants navigating their way through the first one or two phases of a program will find themselves at most risk. They have grown accustom to weekly meetings with case managers, hearings, counseling, 90 in 90 meetings and so forth. You have to find a way to send encouragement on a nearly daily basis. Getting reminders that the participants have a lot on the line and can get through these stressful times with relapse is a key to successfully emerging on the other side of this mess.
Now that we know three key things we can do to help our participants, the question is ‘how do we do it?’ Here are some ideas you can use to varying degree. Some cost money, some are reduced cost given the circumstances and some are free right now.
- A lot of your participants may have been furloughed or laid off. Use grants, indigent funding or private companies with a heart to help pay for testing, monitoring or interlock devices to ensure they can reduce worry about paying for programming.
- Chances are you have a handful of participants that are most at-risk. Use Zoom, Join.me or Go-to-Meeting to do face to face meetings with those participants 5-10 minutes every 2-3 days. That could be all they need to stay focused on success.
- Work the phones a little more than you usually do. Chances are participants are staying home during the day, especially if they have been laid off. Use that as an opportunity to get on the phone, call them up and have a chat. With less paperwork and meetings, you should have a few extra minutes for your more at-risk participants.
- No matter the situation, almost certainly your participants have a smartphone, even if it is just running on their home internet with no cell plan. Use a mobile client communication tool like CourtFact to be able to message individual clients right from the software or broadcast those inspirational messages daily to all participants with just a few clicks. You can even deliver information on available resources in their area by push, text or email.
The overall point here is that this is not the way we want to operate, but whether this is for two weeks or two months, we need to embrace the challenges and find new and interesting ways to keep the participants engaged. Sometimes it is only the case manager standing between a participant and their next drink or fix. Chances are that even your participants’ sponsors are experiencing difficulties as well and may not be able to be there for them right now. Use the tools around you—the ones that you never would have thought you’d have to use—to communicate with participants, deliver important information about resources or just be that ear that they may need right now. We are all in this together!