How to Become a Juvenile Justice Counselor – Schooling and Degrees

What is a Juvenile Justice Counselor?

Juvenile justice counselors, classified as mental health counselors by the US  Bureau of Labor Statistics, help troubled youth become productive members of society.

Mental health counselors who are juvenile justice counselors help young people manage and overcome mental and emotional disorders. They ask questions and listen to answers in order to understand the issues and help juveniles develop effective strategies to improve their lives.

To assist troubled youth whose childhood may have been scarred by abuse, neglect and an absence of role models, juvenile justice counselors diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders like depression and anxiety. They help young people develop skills and strategies to change their behavior, cope with difficult situations and adjust to changes in their lives.

Juvenile justice counselors understand that they may be the first adult to show compassion to youth offenders. They encourage their patients to openly discuss their emotions and experiences.

A juvenile justice counselor may coordinate treatment with other healthcare professionals like social workers and psychiatrists, and they may refer youth offenders to other resources like support groups and inpatient treatment facilities.

What Does a Juvenile Justice Counselor Do?

A JJC (Juvenile Justice Counselor) works with people under 18 who have been adjudicated for a crime. They will work in an outpatient office setting, either at a community clinic or private practice, or at a detention facility or school. Their tasks will include dealing with substance abuse and addiction, anger management, family issues, helping juveniles find goals and direction in life, bullying, child maltreatment, and sexual crimes, (both as a victim or perpetrator thereof), and case management.

JJC’s may provide these counseling services through any combination of individual, family, or group psychotherapy. JJC’s may utilize a variety of theoretical approaches, including REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy), Brief Solution Focused therapy, and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). These tend to be the most common approaches, as insight-oriented, psychodynamic therapy is contraindicated with a juvenile offender population.

Counselors use cognitive behavioral therapy and a goal-oriented approach to help youngsters understand their harmful belies and emotions and focus on positive feelings and thoughts. Juvenile justice counselors also help youngsters eradicate damaging behaviors and replace them with positive and productive behaviors.

As mentioned above, JJC’s collaborate with other professionals who form a treatment team. Communication and case management with the treatment team will be an essential function of the JCC. The treatment team could include a Juvenile probation officer, Guardian Ad Litem (A Court advocate for the juvenile), psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse, state child protective services case manager, Foster parent, biological parent, school guidance counselor, or principal.

Clear communication between providers, coordinated by a lead team member which will typically be the JCC, is a critical function to prevent staff splitting, or the juvenile distorting information and playing one staff member off against another. Communication can provide consistent treatment by staff, clear expectations for behavior, and wrap- around supportive services to maximize the juvenile’s chance at success in a treatment program. This can also reduce duplication of services, or contradictory services.

Meticulous record-keeping will be an integral part of the job. A JCC may appear in court, or submit documents to the court as an expert witness to advocate for the juvenile.

Why Do We Need Juvenile Justice Counselors?

Juvenile Justice Counselors play a vital and important role in helping rehabilitate juveniles to be productive members of society. For some young people, their childhood may have been a troubled time and they may end up within the criminal justice system.

Through the use of juvenile justice counselors, young people are given help and support to address any underlying issues that may have caused them to act out and commit offenses. Without such a service, many young people may find themselves in a cycle of criminal behavior.

Juvenile justice counselors act as a stable contact for the young person and help them put plans in place to move forward in a more positive manner. They can arrange for provision of services such as substance abuse counseling or behavioral counseling. Without the intervention and counseling offered by these counselors, many young offenders may gravitate to more serious offenses which carry more severe punishments.

By addressing the individual’s underlying issues at a young age, the counselor aims to help the individual move their life on to a more positive route. They do this by acting as an individual that the young person can trust and someone that they can come to for personal advice and empathy.

Utilized in detention centers and prisons, counselor’s will also work with offenders upon their release. By providing assistance in finding employment, education or more positive social activities, the counselor tries to ensure that the young person does not track back into the previous negative aspects that may have led to them offending.

Having someone to trust that they feel accountable to is the push that many young people need to find a more positive path.

Where Does a Juvenile Justice Counselor Work?

Juvenile justice counselors may be juvenile court counselors (JCC) and work with juveniles who are convicted of crimes and incarcerated, on probation or out on parole. The juvenile court counselor manages individual cases, provides counseling and supervises delinquents to make sure that they follow the orders of the court.

Some juvenile court counselors supervise recreation, work or study programs for delinquent or emotionally disturbed wards in juvenile halls. Juvenile justice counselors may work outside of the court system. Those with an advanced degree and training can work as psychological therapists, or find employment in schools and in group home settings.

Juvenile justice counselors may also work in halfway houses, or in private practice.

What are the Requirements to Become a Juvenile Justice Counselor?


Many states require the juvenile justice counselor to be licensed or certified. A juvenile court counselor candidate is required to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in human services from a four-year college plus a year of experience. Degrees for juvenile justice counselor candidates include majors in psychology, counseling and social work. Students interested in working with the at-risk youth population may choose a criminal justice degree.

Most states require the juvenile justice counselor candidate to obtain a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, social services, human services, criminal justice or family counseling after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. The candidate must also complete extensive hours of supervised clinical experience.


On-the-job training is required for juvenile justice counselors to keep the counselors updated on current court decisions and legislation that affects juvenile law. Students may also learn safety measures such as unarmed self-defense, safe juvenile transportation and CPR.

Supervised training typically involves internships or residency for one to two years to give the student the opportunity to observe clinical situations and comprehend the role of the counselor. Training is a key element of the counseling certification process.

Licensing /Certification

Requirements licensing and certification vary from state to state, but many states require a master’s degree, supervised clinical experience and passing a rigorous examination recognized by the state. Aspiring juvenile justice counselors will also have to complete a specific number of supervised counseling hours.

Some entry level juvenile justice counselor positions do not require licensing, although almost all senior level and management positions do require a license. The American Counseling Association lists licensing requirements by state.

What Skills are Required for Juvenile Justice Counselors?

A juvenile justice counselor needs analytical skills and good judgment to handle complex cases. The counselor must also have a clear understanding of juvenile law, as well as treatment and crisis intervention strategies. It is helpful for a juvenile justice counselor to be confident and compassionate when dealing with youngsters.

Excellent stress management skills are necessary in dealing with at-risk and troubled youth. Oral and written communication skills and the desire to strengthen community and family ties are also important.

Counselors working in the criminal justice system should be able to work effectively with others and advocate for their clients.

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