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Chapter 5: Juvenile Justice Careers

Juvenile justice careers involve interaction with offenders who are not old enough to be held responsible for criminal acts. In most states, the age for criminal culpability is set at 18 years, although offenders below this age can be transferred to adult court if the juvenile court waives or relinquishes its jurisdiction.

The main goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation rather than punishment. The majority of facilities and services that serve youthful offenders are community-based to allow the juvenile to retain positive ties with school, family, and other community institutions. Court and corrections responses are typically tailored, within guidelines, to the needs of the individual.

Youthful offenders present great potential for change. These offenders can also present some of the greatest challenges. A teenager who has made choices that result in contact with the justice system represents an opportunity to help an individual choose another, more positive, track in the future. These interventions can make a significant difference in the individual’s life. This is also an opportunity to address negative behavior before it escalates into more serious crimes.

Most juvenile justice careers have parallels in the adult system. In some cases only the terminology changes. In other cases the ethic of care and compassion that can be missing in the adult justice system are active as juvenile justice professional guide youthful offenders toward different paths.

Notice the changes in terminology as you search for information about juvenile justice careers. Juvenile courts use different terms to describe things that are very similar to the adult system. See this site for a good glossary of juvenile justice terms. Job titles are another area where this terminology is apparent. It may seem like each jurisdiction has a different job title for a position that is very similar to that found throughout the juvenile justice system. Given this inconsistency, you are advised to focus on categories and duties rather than job titles as you learn about juvenile justice careers. This advise also applies to the following job titles, each of which may, or may not, be used in any given jurisdiction.

General Links

Administration of Children, Youth and Families


American Bar Association – Juvenile Justice Center


ABA – MacArthur Curriculum


Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Outlook Handbook


Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice


Children’s Defense Fund


Child Welfare League of America


Coalition for Juvenile Justice


Future of Children


Juvenile Info Network


Juvenile Justice Policy Network


Juvenile Law Center


National Association for Juvenile Correctional Agencies


National Center on Education, Disability, and Juvenile Justice


National Council on Crime and Delinquency


NCJRS – Juvenile Justice


National Juvenile Detention Association


Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention


OJJDP National Training and Technical Assistance Center


Voices For America’s Children


Youth Law Center


Career Information

Child Protective Service Worker

Description and Duties

Child Protective Service workers attempt to assure the safety and welfare of children through various strategies. These justice system professionals develop a relationship with a family to identify, control, and reduce risks to children. The worker provides direct services to the family members and acts as a case manager in coordinating the provision of other services that are needed. Protective Service Workers also provide an alternate plan of care for the child when parents are unable to provide proper care and attention.


National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect

The Future of Children

American Family Advocacy Center


Child Welfare Caseworker

Description and Duties

Caseworkers provide social services to children and young adults with behavior problems. They also work with the children's parents and recommend appropriate responses to behavioral problems.


National Child Welfare Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice

Juvenile Corrections Caseworker

Description and Duties

As in adult prisons, caseworkers are the primary treatment staff for juveniles in institutional settings. They monitor residents to be sure that they are meeting the requirements of their treatment. Caseworkers may also work in community corrections settings.


CYFD Careers (New Mexico)


Juvenile Detention Alternatives Institute


National Juvenile Detention Association


Juvenile Mental Health Counselor

Description and Duties

Juvenile Mental Health Counselors help juveniles function in their environments, deal with their relationships, and respond in a productive way to personal and family problems. Through direct contact with juveniles, who may not have committed any offense, these justice system professionals help clients identify their concerns, consider effective solutions and find reliable resources. They counsel clients, arrange for services, and continue consultation to assure that services are effective.


Bazelon Center


Center for the Promotion of Mental Health in Juvenile Justice

The National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice


Juvenile Court Judge

Description and Duties

The juvenile court judge hears cases and handles administrative duties associated with the juvenile court operation. Judges determine responsibility and impose sentences. Juvenile court judges may also hear cases involving abuse, neglect, custody and adoption. In most cases juvenile court judges have a law degree. In some jurisdictions juvenile court judges are elected, in others the judge is appointed. In smaller jurisdictions the judge may hear a range of cases involving juveniles and adults.


National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges


ABA Center on Children and the Law


Juvenile Court Referee

Description and Duties

Juvenile court referees ease the workload of juvenile court judges by assisting with the duties of the court and by presiding over hearings. Referees, who are usually attorneys, may hear less serious cases, allowing judges to focus on more serious felony offenses.


Juvenile Referee Program Standards (New Jersey)


National Juvenile Court Services Association


Juvenile Defense Attorney

Description and Duties

The juvenile defense attorney serves as the legal advocate for the accused juvenile. The lawyer prepares the case for the juvenile and represents the accused at all critical stages of the proceedings. Juvenile defense attorneys must be a member of the state bar and in many jurisdictions they are required to complete additional training related to juvenile courts, laws, and procedures.


American Bar Association – National Juvenile Defender Association


National Association of Counsel for Children


National Center for Youth Law


Juvenile Diversion Specialist

Description and Duties

Juvenile Diversion Specialists typically work with eligible first-time juvenile offenders. These programs provide an alternative to formal court proceedings. Juveniles typically participate in diversion programs with their parent or guardian. Diversion programs teach life skills, problem solving, conflict resolution, and critical thinking. These skills are usually taught in group settings that provide opportunities to practice those skills. In addition to skills classes, juvenile diversion clients often complete community service.


Juvenile Diversion Programs (Phoenix, AZ)


Juvenile Diversion Programs (Pueblo County, CO)


Juvenile Probation Officer

Description and Duties

Since probation is the most common sentence for juvenile offenders, the juvenile probation officer position is an important one. As in the adult courts, probation officers supervise those placed on probation to assure that the terms of the probation are being met. Juvenile probation often includes classes, counseling, education, and other responsibilities or services. As a result, the oversight responsibilities can be more demanding than those faced by adult probation officers. Entry-level probation jobs usually require a college degree. Juvenile probation is often the first job placement for criminal justice majors.


American Probation and Parole Association


Department of Juvenile Justice (Florida)


School Resource Officers

Description and Duties

School resource officers are assigned to schools as a part of the community’s police department. They are trained police officers with specialties in juveniles and schools. In some cases School Resource Officers teach law and safety related classes in the schools.


Center for the Prevention of School Violence


CPSV – School Resource Officers


Department of Justice – COPS Online


National Association of School Resource Officers


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