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24 JANUARY 2001
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The juvenile detention careworker

David Roush discusses the characteristics and tasks of those who work with young people in the the juvenile detention and correction systems

Many job titles exist, but the American Correctional Association has taken the lead in referring to direct-care line staff in juvenile institutions as “Juvenile Careworkers." In a national survey of juvenile detention facilities, Rowan (1993) found that although the most frequently used job title was juvenile detention officer, it accounted for only 18 percent of the responses. Concluding that there was no predominant job title for juvenile detention workers, Rowan strongly recommended that the field follow the recommendation of ACA and adopt the title juvenile careworker.

Mixdorf and Rosetti reported that juvenile careworkers performed four overlapping roles: guardian, counselor, supervisor, and role model. The ACA description of the careworker role is consistent with the mission of the juvenile justice system. The careworker’s job is to engage and involve youth in productive and constructive activities while in detention. ACA recommends a positive approach to the job of juvenile careworker. This approach is expressed best by the following description of the role model job function:

Being a positive role model is probably the most important responsibility a careworker can undertake. Modeling good behavior, or setting an example, can affect juveniles in a positive manner more than any other careworker skill. Included in this activity is setting a positive tone or climate, respecting the juveniles, praising them when appropriate, being consistent and fair, and presenting a generally positive attitude. Admittedly, this positive, encouraging attitude may be difficult to maintain when working with angry, rebellious juveniles, but it is absolutely necessary. (pp. 16-17)

Brown (1982) identified five similar roles that detention staff must routinely perform in a detention facility. These roles are:

Illinois is an exception when examining criterion-based job functions for juvenile detention staff. As a part of a comprehensive approach to determining detention staff training needs, the Probation Division of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Court (AOIC) developed a set of basic job functions for detention careworkers. The eight AOIC job functions are: (1) behavior management, (2) crisis intervention, (3) security, (4) safety, (5) custodial care, (6) record keeping, (7) program support and maintenance or special assignments, and (8) counseling or problem solving.

Job functions are a composite of what juvenile detention officers do in their jobs. The 8 job functions identified in the AOIC research were expanded to 10 by adding the additional functions of organizational awareness and external awareness, which were recommended by Christy (1989), who said that awareness constructs constitute components of the job.

The remaining job responsibilities include those characteristics of how the job is performed effectively. Roush and Hudzik (1994) combined the AOIC job functions with previously researched effectiveness characteristics. Those items related to job functions provide job-oriented information, while effectiveness characteristics are a composite of what juvenile detention workers say are important to doing their job effectively or well. The categories related to effectiveness characteristics provide employee-oriented information. The 20 functions and characteristics are listed and defined below.

Job functions (the “what" of juvenile detention) include:

Effectiveness characteristics (the “how" of juvenile detention) include:


Brown, M. (1982) Juvenile Detention (Professional Development Program Series Monograph). Austin: Texas Juvenile Probation Commission

Christy, J.T. (1989) A Curriculum for Training Juvenile Detention Staff. Journal for Juvenile Justice and Detention Services, 3, 3-6

Mixdorf, L. and Rosetti, R (1992) Responsibilities and raining. In Juvenile Careworker Resource Guide. Laurel, MD: Author

Roush, D.W. and Hudzik, J.K. (1994) The Indiana Youth Care Worker Inventory: A Training Needs Assessment Report and Implication for Juvenile Justice Detention Training. Indianapolis: Indiana Criminal Justice Institute

Rowan (1993) Juvenile Detention Workers Rank Third – Not First in the Justice Field: A National Survey. NJDA News, 14-15, 17

Roush, D. (1996) Desktop Guide to Good Juvenile Detention Practice. National Juvenile Detention Association

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