Guide to Qualifications and Training: Youth Justice

Charlotte Goddard
Thursday, September 1, 2022

Youth justice roles are available in youth offending teams (YOTs), the police, courts, Crown Prosecution Service, secure estate and voluntary sector. There are also roles in the Youth Justice Board (YJB), which oversees the system in England and Wales.

The YJB’s 2021-2023 workforce development strategy aims to ensure its Child First principle is embedded in workforce development, promote anti-discriminatory practice and professionalise the workforce.

The Youth Justice Institute offers short online courses and five-week Effective Practice Awards (EPAs), accredited by Skills for Justice Awards. A new EPA, Child First, was created in 2022 in partnership with the YJB. Other courses include trauma-informed practice, youth diversion – created with the Centre for Justice Innovation – and desistance.

The YJB has funded youth justice services to train a Child First “champion”. Other training around the Child First approach has included lectures and online sessions.

Key qualifications offered by Unitas include the Youth Justice Effective Practice Certificate (YJEPC) accredited by Skills for Justice Awards and endorsed by the YJB.

The Foundation Degree in Youth Justice offered by Unitas is suitable for those working in both community and secure establishments and consists of four modules taken over two years and two months – or 18 months for those who have completed the YJEPC. Students who have completed the foundation degree can top up to a BA (Hons) in Youth Justice by completing an extra module on either social policy in youth justice or managing and coaching in youth justice, plus an independent research project.

A Level 5 Youth Justice Practitioner Apprenticeship launched last year, aimed at practitioners in local authority youth offending services or relevant voluntary sector organisations. The YJB plans to develop a supported youth justice apprenticeship for people with lived experience of the care/justice system and from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Secure estate

The Youth Custody Service (YCS) is a specialist service within HM Prison and Probation Service. The youth secure estate is made up of five under-18 young offender institutions, two secure training centres and eight secure children’s homes.

Youth justice workers work with 12- to 18-year-olds in specialist YOIs and secure training centres. Until recently, youth justice workers were expected to complete the Youth Justice Foundation Degree and progress to the role of Band 4 youth justice worker specialist. Some 201 have already achieved the degree-level qualification and 314 others are in training. However, a Ministry of Justice spokesman said the YCS was developing a new apprenticeship approach which will mean the foundation degree will no longer be offered as required training for YCS officers.

Leadership development programme Unlocked Graduates has been placing officers in YOIs including Feltham, Cookham Wood and Werrington for four years. This year, the programme will place more than 120 graduates as prison officers across nearly 30 prisons. To be eligible for the fully-funded programme, which includes work towards a Masters degree, graduates must have a 2:1 or above. They receive a salary of up to £31,000 depending on location. Applications open for the next cohort in mid-September 2022.

In 2016, the government said it would open two secure schools to provide education and rehabilitation to young offenders in a therapeutic environment. A National Audit Office report published in April 2022 found the first proposed school, for 49 pupils, is now three years behind schedule and £31m over-budget. Run by charity Oasis, the school is set to open in 2024 in Medway.


YOTs are multi-agency services, including social workers, probation officers, police, education and health workers. Many YOTs also employ YOT officers or practitioners who undertake youth justice specific in-service training and may get the opportunity to do YJEPC or a youth justice degree. The YJB’s skills audit tool is designed to help practitioners identify potential gaps in their knowledge and access targeted training.

The Association of YOT Managers (AYM) runs the Aspiring Future Leaders course with local government leadership body Solace Enterprises. This is aimed at managers in YOTs who want to develop their leadership skills and apply for more senior roles. The course is set at Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) Level 5 and can include work towards a separate Certificate in Leadership and Management. The AYM also offers an accredited ILM Level 7 Certificate in Leadership and Management for YOT heads of service, also in conjunction with Solace.

The Youth Justice Sector Led Improvement Partnership is funded by the YJB, administered by the AYM, and delivered by senior leaders in youth justice. It offers training for managers interested in doing peer reviews of YOTs and peer review team leader training. It also offers operational manager training, coaching and mentoring for YOT managers and supervisors.

The YJB has created the Developing Practice Group Basecamp, a virtual space to support sharing of knowledge and information across YOTs. More than 200 YOT staff have signed up. It has also created quarterly developing practice forums.


The probation workforce consists of probation service officers (PSOs) and probation officers. Probation officers can work in YOTs on secondment. To train as a probation officer, applicants need a recognised Level 5 qualification or above in any subject. Aspiring probation officers start as PSOs and work their way through the Professional Qualification in Probation (PQiP) programme. PSOs taking the accelerated PQiP PSO Progression Programme do not need a Level 5 qualification and can study part-time or full-time.

Meet the practitioner

Sophie Shipton, prison officer, Unlocked Graduates

When Sophie Shipton graduated with a degree in politics from the University of Leeds in 2019, she was looking for a fast‑paced, challenging role where she could make a difference. The two-year Unlocked Graduates programme was the answer.

An intense six-week residential course prepared her for her first day as a Band 3 prison officer at Feltham YOI.

Supported by a prison officer mentor, after 15 months she was promoted to supervising officer, helping run a wing of 20 young people and 12 staff. Her role requires empathy and patience. “These children are amazing – if they focused their energy in the right place they could be the next CEOs of the world’s top companies,” she says.

A Ministry of Justice placement opened her eyes to a potential future in the civil service, but she is also considering supporting prisoners on release. “Whatever I do next will definitely be in the criminal justice sector,” she says.



Read more in CYP Now's Children’s Workforce Guide to Qualifications and Training

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