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How to Become a Social Worker for Juvenile Offenders

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The primary mission of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate youth offenders and help them become productive members of society. To accomplish this, the court needs partners, such as social workers, to help juvenile offenders make better choices. According to UNICEF, juveniles who commit crimes often live in situations where they face poverty, drug addiction and separation from others. A social worker who works with juvenile offenders can help children deal with such challenges and prevent them from becoming repeat offenders.

Get Credentialed

Social workers must obtain at least a bachelor's degree for some positions and a master's degree for others. To work in a clinical environment, such as a hospital, you typically need a master's degree and either two years or 3,000 hours of clinical experience. Most universities offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work, and many will let you pursue a master's degree even if your bachelor's degree is not in social work. Apply for state licensing, which typically requires you to submit transcripts, pay a fee and complete required exams.

Contact Treatment Facilities

Search for jobs with agencies that manage adolescent group homes that serve juvenile offenders. For example, the Koba Institute, a nonprofit organization that operates group homes in the Washington, D.C., area, hires licensed social workers to work in its facilities. Look for positions as residential home directors and outreach coordinators, which often require a license to practice social work.

Seek Out Government Opportunities

Apply for positions at a state or local juvenile detention center. Check with your state's justice department about facilities and application procedures. In Texas, for example, contact the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Other resources for locating jobs are local probation offices, child protection agencies and school districts.

Pay Attention to Stress

Social workers help clients adapt to change and overcome challenges. You advocate for resources, assess needs and monitor the effectiveness of treatment. This requires compassion, dedication and time, and many new social workers tend to immerse themselves fully in their clients' cases. This can lead to burnout, however. Find ways to prevent burnout and work through stress on the job, so you can focus on your clients' needs. Get enough rest and relax on your off time, and take advantage of your company's employee assistance program.


Michelle Dwyer is a U.S. Army veteran writing fiction and nonfiction since 2003. She specializes in business, careers, leadership, military affairs and organizational change and behavior. Dwyer received an MBA from Tarleton State University/Texas A&M Central Texas and an MFA in creative writing from National University in La Jolla, Calif.

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