Careers Guide: Youth justice careers - Essential advice on jobs in youth justice

When it comes to a career in youth justice, passion and good communication skills can count just as much as qualifications. Emily Twinch asks what skills are required.

1. You must be able to communicate with young people.

"You need to be a people person," says Trevor Brown, manager of the Greenwich Youth Inclusion Project. You also need to be able to understand and communicate with young people on their level.

Lorna Hadley, vice-chair of the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers, says good communication skills are essential to find out how best to help the individuals you encounter.

"You need to have the skills to engage with young people," she explains. "You need to think about what outcomes you are looking for. Is the best outcome to get them back to school or integrated into the community?" She says some of the best youth justice workers have been nursery nurses because they "understand child development".

2. Gain relevant experience.

One of the most important steps to a career in youth justice is getting the right sort of experience, says Ruth Searle, senior strategy adviser at the Youth Justice Board. "Working in a youth club, as a peer monitor in a school or college or in a night shelter are good ways to start," she advises. "Also, get some experience working with people with vulnerabilities and difficulties."

Ian Langley, head of Wiltshire Youth Offending Service and secretary for the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers, recommends voluntary work: "It's a good way of dipping your toes in to see if it's for you."

It can also help you decide which age group you want to work with, says Rebecca Kevill, manager of Burnley Youth Inclusion Programme. "Working with four- to seven-year-olds is different from working with 20- to 25-year-olds," she says.

3. You need passion to make a difference.

"You are not going to be a millionaire and you have to be resilient, both personally and professionally," says Ian Langley. "You have got to want to do it."

When he interviews people for any role, he always looks for a "drive and commitment" to work with young people as much as anything.

Rebecca Kevill believes being passionate about this type of work helps see you through the tough times: "The service users we work with are challenging young people and some people are not comfortable with that. It can be challenging, but also rewarding."

4. Other professions are welcome.

Charlie Spencer, service manager at Sandwell Youth Offending Team, says you don't necessarily have to have a youth justice qualification to work in the sector. "We have lots of different types of professionals in our youth offending team: police officers, probation workers, social workers, teachers, people with management qualifications, a psychiatric nurse," he says. "It's about transferable skills and understanding."

Trevor Brown agrees: "If you are a teacher and want to offer something different, you can bring it to the table."

5. Think about qualifications.

A degree in sociology or criminology is a good route into youth justice, says Ruth Searle. But there are various courses you can take, such as social work qualifications.

Most youth justice employers will pay to put staff through more specific programmes, such as the Professional Certificate in Effective Practice (Youth Justice), once they start work, so those thinking about moving into the sector needn't be overly concerned about gaining a sector-specific qualification.

Charlie Spencer, though, is keen to point out that youth offending teams value experience just as much. "If an applicant has a qualification but does not meet the rest of our criteria, they don't get shortlisted," he says.

THE YOUTH JUSTICE WORKFORCE OF THE FUTURE

In July, the government published its Youth Crime Action Plan. The document pledged an additional £100m to stop young people getting involved in criminal activity.

Proposals included the creation of more prevention schemes, such as those providing late-night activities for teenagers in antisocial behaviour hotspots, to help divert them away from crime. It also called for tougher, more visible community sentences.

The proposals are set to lead to job opportunities, especially within the community and voluntary sector, which the government is keen to see run more preventive programmes.

The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 has led to a series of changes to the youth justice system. These include councils being encouraged to provide more individual support to young people who have committed antisocial acts.

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