If you have excellent critical-thinking, communication and decision-making skills and enjoy working with young people, you might wonder how to become a juvenile probation officer. Probation officers oversee criminal offenders placed on probation. Juvenile probation officers work exclusively with minors, reporting on individuals’ treatment and progress during the probationary period. Probation officers typically work in state or local governments.
A probation officer assists in rehabilitating offenders to fit into a law-abiding society and seeks to prevent offenders from returning to criminal behavior and possibly becoming dangerous to the public. In the case of juvenile offenders, who have their whole lives ahead of them still, this rehabilitation is essential. Probation officers differ from parole officers, interceding in instances where offenders have not yet been sentenced to penalties as severe as incarceration, while parole officers work to rehabilitate incarcerated individuals. Probation officers seek to help individuals change the path of their lives before criminal behavior leads to jail time.
The everyday work of a juvenile probation officer requires superb communication and decision-making skills. Juvenile probation officers must meet with offenders, their parents and other family members. The situation can cause any or all of these individuals to be stressed or hostile, so probation officers must have the emotional stability to diffuse tense situations. Probation officers assess the treatment options available for rehabilitating the offender, arrange for those plans to become reality, and report on the progress of offenders. The work of a juvenile probation officer may include travel and a good deal of paperwork. Despite the commitment of time and energy, many juvenile probation officers find the career fulfilling when they are able to help troubled youth turn their lives around.
To being preparing for their careers, aspiring juvenile probation officers should pursue a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Criminal justice, social work and psychology are common fields of study for probation officer candidates. Work experience in criminal investigations, corrections, parole, social work, counseling or substance abuse treatment can boost an aspiring juvenile probation officer’s likelihood of securing a position. Without this experience, a candidate may have to pursue an advanced degree to be considered for a job. An aspiring juvenile probation officer will probably also need to finish a state training program and pass an examination to become certified. Most new juvenile probation officers must then work in a trainee position for a year before being considered a full-fledged probation officer.
Probation officers earn a median salary of $47,200 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their wages are higher than both the median salary of all occupations, $33,840, and the $39,250 median annual salary of counselors and social workers. The federal agency anticipates an 18 percent growth in career opportunities for probation officers. If you have a passion for helping young criminal offenders reform their lives, knowing how to become a juvenile probation officer can be the start of a career where you can really make a difference.