Within most legal systems, there are two sets of courts that deal with criminal offenders. One is reserved for juvenile offenders while the other is for the remainder of the populace. A career in juvenile justice is essentially any job that takes place within the confines of the juvenile justice system, though the roles are typically the same as those in the adult justice system. The obvious difference is that a juvenile justice career involves positions working with minor children rather than adults.
In most cases, a juvenile justice career requires pursuing a degree related to criminal justice, but this career field can also be pursued through education in social work or psychology. Criminal justice is a specific degree field that prepares individuals for working as correctional officers, probation officers and other related law enforcement jobs. There are also opportunities within criminal justice to work as clerks, councilors and magistrates or judges. A law degree is required in many court systems to work as a magistrate or judge.
When considering a juvenile justice career, the specific roles within the juvenile court system should be examined. Juvenile justice has many parallels to the adult justice system, but the goals of juvenile court systems are often focused on the offenders and their families with rehabilitation being the key objective. If the thought of working with troubled youth in a clinical setting is appealing, a degree in social work or psychology may be useful in the pursuit of a juvenile justice career. Often times community resources, such as therapy, counseling, and community service, are called upon by the juvenile courts and workers in hospitals, group homes and non-profit organizations may work together with court officials.
If the idea of enforcing law is an appealing career choice, then training as a juvenile corrections officer or probation officer may be ideal. Keep in mind that these individuals work directly with youth offenders in a detention-type setting and many of these children may be troubled and difficult. While knowledge of the juvenile system and its legal parameters are a job requirement, a compassion for and understanding of youth offenders is also essential. A strong, yet compassionate, personality may be beneficial in juvenile law enforcement jobs.
Whether working directly within municipal or county juvenile courts or for a government or private organization partnering with the courts, a juvenile justice career can be rewarding. While pursuing education for this field, most courses and programs will focus on either criminal justice, law, social work or psychology as a broad syllabus, but it is beneficial to take classes or receive training where the emphasis is on children or juvenile law if your goal is to work in the juvenile justice system.