Juvenile Counseling Careers – Becoming a Juvenile Counselor [2024 Guide]

Last Updated: June 23, 2024

What is Juvenile Counseling?

Juvenile counseling provides support and guidance to troubled youngsters between the ages of 5 and 17 and their families. Juvenile counseling is provided to young people dealing with issues that lead to behavioral problems.

Children and adolescents who can benefit from juvenile counseling include those struggling with poverty, substance abuse, a lack of positive role models, parental neglect, abuse or abandonment, or mental disorders. Such problems can interfere with a child’s education and prevent the child from becoming a happy and healthy adult. The goal of juvenile counseling is to support children and set them on a path to becoming a productive citizen.

Juvenile counseling helps children cope with their situation in life and offers them concrete advice for dealing with problems. Juvenile counseling provides these youngsters with the opportunity to relate to an adult on a deeply personal level, and encourages troubled youth to follow a more positive course in life.

Juvenile counseling also provides case management and up-to-date, accurate record-keeping of documents including narratives, research, records and reports.

What is a Juvenile Counselor?

A juvenile counselor provides support, resources, and guidance to juveniles and their families. Counselors offer life advice by teaching children how to overcome problems, change their unhealthy behaviors and thought processes, and channel their energies into a more constructive direction.

Juvenile counselors are often asked to recommend services and action plans to families, physicians, psychologists, juvenile courts, and social service agencies (i.e. Department of Children’s Services: Child Protective Services), on the behalf of the children they manage.

These counselors are also responsible for providing case management services (i.e. notating progress, developing case studies, and documenting counseling sessions). This documentation is placed in the juvenile’s file for later review.

Juvenile counselors may also be required to interview juveniles and their families (i.e. intakes), investigate juvenile offenses, and provide counseling services to those in need. To become a juvenile counselor, you will need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree (B.A. or B.S.) from an accredited undergraduate human services program.

What Does a Juvenile Counselor Do?

Juvenile counselors provides guidance and support to juveniles and their families. The counselor will interview juveniles and their families and investigate any juvenile offenses to gather information used in counseling. Juvenile counselors develop action plans, and they may refer a troubled youngster to a social service agency such as the Child Protective Services.

Juvenile counselors may also be asked to make recommendations to schools, juvenile court and/or social service agencies on behalf of the juveniles they represent. In addition, they are also responsible for documenting counseling and case management services and placing them in the juvenile’s file. It is important that all documents (records, narratives, reports and research data) are accurate, detailed and up-to-date.

If you are interested in becoming a juvenile counselor, you will be expected to interview, investigate, counsel and provide case management services to juveniles. You may also be required to share personal experiences with the juveniles in your care. As a juvenile counselor, your main responsibility will be to help juveniles cope with their situation and work through their issues.

As a juvenile counselor, you will also be responsible for teaching them how to change their unhealthy thought processes and behaviors. In other words, you must be able to relate to the juveniles on a deeper, more personal level and have a passion to help children improve their life.

As a juvenile counselor, you will be asked to provide counseling and social services for children in state’s custody, foster homes and juvenile detention centers. You may also provide services to children who are still in the custody of their families.

Related: How to Become a Correctional Psychologist

Where Does a Juvenile Counselor Work?

Juvenile counselors are generally employed by:

  • Schools
  • Private practices
  • Group homes
  • Juvenile halls
  • Local and state offices
  • Law enforcement agencies
  • The justice system
  • Juvenile treatment facilities

What are the Requirements to Become a Juvenile Counselor?


In order to become a juvenile counselor, you must obtain a bachelor’s degree in the human service field (psychology, counseling, criminal justice, or social work).

It is important for you to take as many child-related courses as possible. Child-related courses (child development, child psychology, counseling techniques to use with juveniles, etc.) may provide you with the skills you need to be able to effectively help children in crisis.

For independent counseling and private practice most states require a minimum of master’s degree in a related field (human services, family counseling, criminal justice, psychology, or social work).

If you would like to provide clinical counseling to juveniles, you may need to obtain a master’s degree or a doctorate (Ph.D.) in clinical psychology.

In addition, as a juvenile counselor, you may be required to accompany juveniles to court or interact with law enforcement therefore it may be beneficial to take some criminal justice courses.

If you are interested in working with disadvantaged and at-risk juveniles, you may want to get your bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. If you decide to pursue this career avenue, you will need to earn a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree in juvenile correctional counseling (JCC).

If you do not have a bachelor’s degree, you may still be able to counsel juveniles. In some cases, your experience (working with juveniles) may be substituted for education. Depending on the employer, experience may be defined as working at a children’s group home, daycare, tutoring center or school (as a coach, teacher, or teacher’s assistant).

Civil Service Exams

Depending on the state and employer, you may be required to take the civil service examination. For example, in New York the juvenile counselor position within the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is a civil service position. You will need to pass this exam before you can become employed as a juvenile counselor.

If you are interested in counseling juveniles in detention or group homes, you may be subjected to an extensive screening process that includes state, national, criminal and child protective services background checks. You may also be required to successfully pass a psychological examination.

Personal Qualities

If you plan to become a juvenile counselor there are certain qualities that you must possess to effectively help children with their problems. You must be patient, understanding, relatable, positive, knowledgeable, trustworthy, caring, nurturing, calm and open. A positive attitude is important because most of the juveniles that you counsel will be upset, angry, frustrated, depressed and/or confused.

In order to effectively help those juveniles you will need to win their trust and respect. The children will need to feel that you really care about them and want the best for them. They also will need to feel that you are sincerely there to help them.

What Do You Learn in a Juvenile Counseling Program?

A juvenile counseling program teaches you how to help juveniles cope with, and resolve their issues (i.e. unhealthy relationships, poor physical health, mental illnesses, destructive friendships, family dysfunction, academic problems, etc.).

This program also teaches you how to help juveniles “reframe” (change negative thoughts to positive ones) their thoughts and behaviors, so that they experience happiness and fulfillment.

More specifically, a juvenile counseling program teaches you how to relate to juveniles on a deeper, more personal level, so that they feel comfortable and safe in your presence. Ultimately, the goal of this program is to help juveniles improve their lives, so that they do not end up in mental health treatment centers, jails, or prisons.

A juvenile counseling program also teaches you how to provide counseling and case management services to children and their families.

When you start your career, your clientele may consist of children in state’s custody, children living with other relatives, children in foster care, and children in detention centers. You may also provide services to children still in the home with a parent or two.

Your program courses depend on what program you are in (i.e. undergraduate, graduate or doctoral). However, the following courses are often required at some point during a juvenile counseling program: child psychology, child development, abnormal psychology, lifespan development, counseling techniques for juveniles, research methods, statistics, etc. These courses may teach you how to effectively help juveniles in the midst of crisis.

What Skills are Needed for a Juvenile Counselor?

A juvenile counselor needs more than education in order to be effective. While a degree and certification is often a requirement depending on the state where they are employed, having certain life skills is essential in performing the job. Here is a list of skills that a juvenile counselor should possess:

  • Decision making
  • Great at analyzing
  • Listening skills
  • Empathy
  • Communication skills (written and oral)

Decision making is a key part of being a juvenile counselor. Recommending the correct path for an adolescent to take is no small decision. A juvenile counselor needs to be able to make quick and sound decisions that will lead the person they are working with down the right path.

A juvenile counselor cannot make sound decisions without being able to analyze various situations. Simply making a decision is not enough. A counselor must be able to analyze what issues are being faced and how the juvenile is dealing with these issues. Only then can a sound recommendation be made for the juvenile.

Listening is the best way to understand issues facing a juvenile. A juvenile counselor must be slow to talk and quick to listen. By taking the time to listen to what the adolescent is saying (and how they are saying it), the counselor will be able to start developing a feel for the various issues troubling the youth.

Empathy (not sympathy) is a must have skill for any juvenile counselor. They need to put themselves into the shoes of the adolescent and understand why they are feeling the way they feel. Being an adolescent is tough enough without having to deal with another adult telling them what to do without understanding their situation.

One of the final skills that they must possess is that of communication. What good is it to have a good plan when they are unable to communicate it to the juvenile they are trying to help? This also helps other counselors understand what is going on with the child in the event they see more than one counselor.

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