What Does a Juvenile Probation Officer Do?
The role of a juvenile probation officer is “a blend of surveillance and rapport building” with the youth and their family, explains Jennifer Peck, an associate professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Central Florida. Juvenile probation officers act in a supervisory capacity, making both announced and unannounced visits to probationers’ homes to ensure that they comply with court orders. Beyond assessing compliance with probation orders, unannounced visits present an opportunity to build rapport with juveniles and their families. Visits are a chance to see the entire family in their natural context, observe their strengths, but also assess for any issues. If needed, juvenile probation officers may administer drug and alcohol tests as well, to ensure that probationers are abstaining from these substances.
In addition to supervising youth placed on probation, juvenile probation officers assume many other important responsibilities and functions including:
- Preparing and presenting reports to the court, residential programs, and service providers
- Documenting supervision and the case management of youth who are placed on probation
- Maintaining caseloads
- Making recommendations to judges based on a youth’s risk for recidivism and needs
- Appearing in court when needed
- Attending trainings
The degree of supervision depends on the individual. “Theory and research have shown that higher-risk youth benefit more from intensive supervision,” says Peck, adding “Juvenile probation officers invest more face-to-face time with higher-risk youth in their home environments than lower-risk youth.”
Juvenile Probation Officers’ Role in Criminal Justice
The responsibilities of juvenile probation officers can vary from state to state and within states, as different jurisdictions have different policies. Juvenile probation officers working with youth who are on probation often have a supervision-only individual caseload ranging from 25 to 40 cases. As previously mentioned, officers actively manage these cases and keep thorough documentation on individual records. They may also meet with probationers multiple times a month, make frequent contact with parents or guardians, monitor probationers’ participation in court-ordered programs and ensure all probationers are working to pay restitution to their victims.
Juvenile probation officers and police officers work together to ensure that probationers are not violating the court-ordered terms of their probation; police officers can document violations and report them to individual probation officers. They also collaborate with others in the juvenile-justice system, educators, families and others in an offender’s life. “A juvenile probation officer closely works with other members of the courtroom workgroup, such as prosecutors and judges. They also collaborate with a juvenile’s family, school and sometimes peers to obtain details about their life circumstances, risks and needs,” says Peck.
Often, juvenile probation officers are responsible for providing testimony in juvenile court about a defendant’s background or progress made during their probation period. These professionals work closely with social-service agencies to help probationers obtain employment, mental health, or substance abuse services. They can also ensure offenders attend school, maintain passing grades, or, if they’ve dropped out, help them reapply or enroll in trade classes.
How to Become a Juvenile Probation Officer
Individuals interested in criminal justice, social work and working with minors should consider a professional career as a juvenile probation officer. Pursuing an education is an important first step, with most aspiring juvenile probation officers earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, social work or another social science. Professionals looking to secure a supervisory position as a juvenile probation officer should consider a master’s degree in criminal justice.
Work experience is also important for an individual’s advancement in the field. Many states require these professionals to go through a training program under the supervision of an experienced probation officer. Some states and local municipalities might also require individuals to pass a certification test before becoming an official probation officer.
Necessary Skills to Become a Juvenile Probation Officer
Successful juvenile probation officers share a number of fundamental skills, including communication, critical thinking and organizational skills, as well as emotional stability. Other important attributes include the ability to:
- Understand and implement policies, laws and procedures
- Provide counseling services
- Analyze problems and an appropriate course of action
- Perform CPR/first aid certification
Juvenile probation officers should be clear and effective communicators. They need to be able to communicate with juveniles to assess not only their situation but also recommend which type of treatment and services are likely to result in prosocial outcomes. These professionals must be able to communicate with family members, judges and police officers regarding the juvenile’s background and progress made.
The role of a juvenile probation officer can be emotionally difficult at times. These professionals are dealing with minors often at the most vulnerable time of their life. For many of these minors, this may be the first time they have been arrested for a crime. They may be scared, angry or resistant. Juvenile probation officers need to be able to handle these high-stress situations with firmness and strength, but also empathy.
Critical Thinking and Organizational Skills
Juvenile probation officers use their critical thinking skills while evaluating individual cases. Some cases may benefit from probation, while others may need more intensive supervision or placements. Officers need to use their best judgment in deciding on a juvenile’s rehabilitation plan. Organizational skills are also critical in managing a sometimes heavy caseload.
Juvenile Probation Officer Salary and Job Outlook
The 2019 median annual salary for probation officers in the United States was $54,290, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), with a variety of factors affecting an individual’s salary. Professionals with years of experience in the field can command higher salaries than those just starting in the position. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can expect higher salaries than those without a degree. Professionals with a master’s degree in a related field are well equipped to fill supervisory roles.
Location also plays a significant role in an individual’s salary. For example, according to the BLS, probation officers who work in California, New York and Nevada make significantly more than those who work in Idaho, Oklahoma and Kentucky.
Most probation officers work for state or local governments. The BLS projects the number of jobs for probation officers will grow 4% between 2019 and 2029, on par with the average projected growth for all occupations. Demand for probation officers should continue as localities search for appropriate and effective ways to deal with criminal behavior that are less expensive than incarceration.
Pursue a Rewarding Career as a Juvenile Probation Officer
The juvenile justice system needs professionals who have a passion for criminal and juvenile justice and can develop dynamic, empathetic solutions for the rehabilitation of juveniles. The University of Central Florida offers a variety of criminal-justice programs, including bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice and a certificate in juvenile-justice leadership.
UCF’s innovative criminal-justice programs offer students the opportunity to develop their knowledge of the criminal justice system and master the skills needed for a career in the field. The online Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice program can provide students with a strong base of knowledge in the history of crime in the United States and the criminal-justice system. Students will also learn how to analyze data and conduct research.
The online Master of Science in Criminal Justice program delivers students an advanced curriculum that can prepare them to become leaders in the field. The program is unique in that it matches students with a success coach who will support them throughout their academic journey.
The online Certificate in Juvenile Justice Leadership is geared toward graduates who want to further their development in the field of juvenile justice. This certificate offers students the opportunity to enhance their skills in data management and policy analysis, while also acquiring more experience in the field.
Learn how UCF’s online criminal-justice programs can help you pursue a rewarding career as a juvenile probation officer or related criminal-justice professional.