Youth justice – Children's Workforce Guide to Qualifications and Training

Charlotte Goddard
Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Youth justice roles are available in youth offending teams, the police, courts, Crown Prosecution Service and the secure estate. There are also roles in the Youth Justice Board (YJB), which oversees the system in England and Wales. Building on its Workforce Development Strategy published in 2019, the YJB plans to support the development of trauma-informed practice and develop a youth justice qualification to further professionalise the sector.

The Youth Justice Institute, a not-for-profit initiative to provide professional leadership for youth justice workers, launched in autumn 2019. The Institute’s YJ Learning Hub offers 15 short online courses including 13 Effective Practice Awards, accredited by Skills for Justice Awards.

Key youth justice qualifications include the Youth Justice Effective Practice Certificate (YJEPC), accredited by Skills for Justice Awards, endorsed by the YJB and recognised by the University of Suffolk as representing 60 credits towards the Foundation Degree in Youth Justice and BA in Youth Justice.

The Foundation Degree in Youth Justice is at the heart of the Youth Justice Professional Framework and is based on the key competencies required for work in the youth justice system, which are identified in the Youth Justice Skills Matrix. It is delivered to both community and secure establishments, and consists of four modules taken over two years and two months.

A trailblazer group of youth justice employers from community and secure settings is working towards an apprenticeship scheme based on the foundation degree.

Secure estate

The Youth Custody Service (YCS) is a specialist service within Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). It is not currently recruiting, although potential recruits can register their interest on the HMPPS website.

Youth justice workers work with 12- to 18-year-olds in specialist young offender institutions (YOIs) or in Medway Secure Training Centre (STC). They help to create a secure and positive environment for children and young people, focusing on behaviour management and education, and supporting emotional, mental and physical needs. Youth justice workers start with 12 weeks of Prison Officer Entry Level Training, specialising in working with children and young people in custody. At the end of the training, they are awarded a NVQ Level 3 qualification.

All Band 3 youth justice workers are expected to complete the first two modules of the Youth Justice Foundation degree as part of their role. They are then expected to complete the degree and progress to the role of Band 4 youth justice worker specialist. All Youth Custody Service officers will be expected to be specialists by 2023. Some 114 have already achieved the degree-level qualification and more than 240 others are currently in training.

The second cohort of a pilot fast-track 15‑month training programme is set to start in September 2020, although Covid-19 led to delays in the recruiting process. The salaried programme includes 13 months of training and two months of accreditation.

Leadership development programme Unlocked Graduates is now in two prisons for under-18s – Feltham and Cookham Wood – as well as several young offender institutions that have a population of mostly 18- to 21-year-olds. In 2020, the programme took on more than 120 graduates to be placed as prison officers across nearly 25 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 £30,000. Applications opened for the next cohort in mid-September 2020.

Further employment opportunities may arise with additional specialist support units and the development of secure schools. However, the first secure school, which was scheduled to open in late 2020 on the site of Medway STC in Kent, will not now open until 2022.


Youth offending teams (YOTs) comprise practitioners from a wide range of backgrounds with different training needs. The YJB’s skills audit tool is designed to help practitioners identify potential gaps in their knowledge and gain access to more targeted training.

Some YOTs take on unqualified workers who work their way up through higher level grades. A qualification in social work is desirable but not essential. Once employed by a YOT, they undertake youth justice specific in‑service training and may get the opportunity to do YJEPC or a youth justice degree.

The Association of Youth Offending Team Managers (AYM) runs a leadership development programme in partnership with Solace Enterprises. The target group is operational managers within YOTs, as well as newly-appointed heads of service. The next course has been postponed until spring 2021 due to Covid-19. The course is set at Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) Level 5 and can include work toward a Certificate in Leadership and Management offered separately by Solace.

The AYM also offers a full accredited ILM Level 7 Certificate in Leadership and Management for YOT heads of service, also in conjunction with Solace. The next cohort will commence autumn 2020 and may be facilitated this year by the use of video conferencing.

National Probation Service (NPS) 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. They also need relevant experience of working with people in crisis and those who display challenging behaviour.

An HM Inspectorate of Probation report in January 2020 found the NPS was hampered by staff shortages. In March 2020, there were 639 full-time equivalent (FTE) vacancies for probation officers across NPS. However, there were also 779 FTE trainees in the pipeline, says a Ministry of Justice spokesperson.

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