Juvenile probation officers provide a valuable service to communities by monitoring young probationers, offering advice and resources to offenders and their families, and alleviating the burden on crowded juvenile detention facilities. Although the primary goal of a juvenile probation officer is to ensure that the probationer does not engage in any more prohibited activities, the real work of these professionals is to encourage juveniles to lead productive, fulfilling lives. Juvenile probation officers use their skills as counselors as well as community resources to make positive changes in the lives of these wayward young people.
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In order to fulfill this diverse set of responsibilities, juvenile courts that employ juvenile probation officers seek out professionals who have extensive academic and professional credentials related to helping teens and young children. Juvenile probation officers become involved in a case long before a sentence is handed down. They often meet with the offender, their family and other government officials to determine if a recommendation of probation should be made. If probation is granted, then the officer may play a large role in helping find appropriate drug or alcohol treatment, mental health care, or social activities. They often coordinate their actions with judicial officers and families.
Education Necessary to Become a Juvenile Probation Officer
Those looking at out how to become a juvenile probation officer will find that the job requires considerable education related to juvenile psychology, law enforcement and administration. Almost all juvenile courts expect juvenile probation officers to have at least a bachelor’s degree, and many employers provide incentives like salary increases and accelerated promotion to attract candidates with at least a master’s degree. The majority of officers enter the profession with a degree in one of these fields:
- Developmental psychology
- Juvenile justice
- Juvenile forensic psychology
- Social work
- Substance abuse studies
In addition to specialized studies of the mental processes of young people, juvenile probation officers should also have some coursework in the following areas.
- Legal system
- Public administration
- Computer systems
- First aid/CPR
Certification and Civil Service Examination
In addition to classroom instruction in purely academic areas, there are a variety of additional classes that can benefit prospective candidates. The most important of these is preparatory courses for the state certification exams. Many states certify probation officers prior to work with adult or juvenile probationers. These Civil Service Exams may include multiple choice or essay questions that assess the following competencies:
- Juvenile and family law
- Probation procedures
- Situational responses
Juvenile probation officers are usually employed through juvenile courts or jurisdictional courts. Some employers may not distinguish juvenile cases from adult cases, so probation officers may be responsible for both. Before completing an application it is important to evaluate qualifications, which are most commonly:
- U.S. citizenship
- A valid driver’s license
- At least 21 years of age
- Ability to pass a drug test
- Graduation from an accredited university with a bachelor’s degree
- No criminal convictions
An application should include the following documents:
- Employer recommendations
- Copy of driver’s license
- College transcripts
- Military service records
If the court approves the application, the candidate will be asked to take a written exam that should cover topics similar to the state certification exam. Candidates will also be subjected to a thorough medical examination, psychological evaluation and drug test. Some states may also require that juvenile probation officers meet minimum physical standards by performing a variety of timed exercises. These tests may include:
- Push ups
- Sit ups
- Distance runs
- Obstacle courses
As officers of the court, juvenile probation officers are expected to possess a moral character and be free from past criminal infractions, narcotics use, or irresponsible financial behavior. Most courts will conduct a criminal background investigation to ensure that the candidate is free from these and other disqualifying factors.
Juvenile Probation Officer Training Academies
New recruits must attend a training academy for several weeks prior to effectively becoming juvenile probation officers. During this training program, recruits are instructed in a variety of subjects including:
- Suicide prevention
- Drug identification
- Personal defense and firearms
- Juvenile law
- Mental illness recognition
- Legal liabilities
- Case management
The purpose of this training is to instill the necessary skills to monitor and supervise juvenile probationers in a variety of settings, including pretrial assessment, family interactions and confrontational situations. Following training, new juvenile probation officers are monitored by senior officers and periodically evaluated for up to a year.
Most states require that juvenile probation officers receive ongoing education and training throughout their career, including annual firearm recertification. Some jurisdictions mandate that a certain number of course credits from relevant topics are earned yearly. Other states, however, only require that juvenile probation officers re-certify periodically; recertification is usually contingent upon successful passage of an examination. These exams may cover a variety of new laws, procedures or knowledge that may necessitate additional coursework or independent study.