Desktop Guide to
Good Juvenile Probation Practice
Two men talking

Building relationships

Incentives, responses to non-compliance, violations, supervision type, supervision plans, family engagement

Managing Cases

Pillars of transformation

In order to manage cases, you have to be able to create a case plan that not only meets the youth’s criminogenic needs outlined in their assessment, but also focus on things like their cognitive abilities and developmental stage, connection with youth and their families to create and individualized case planning, connecting with service providers, and ensuring the case plan is based on strengths. If a case plan is individualized for each youth, the case plan should also be able to address past/current trauma, which can go a long way in helping youth make positive behavior changes.

More about the pillars and guiding values »

Effective, developmentally appropriate case management practices that promote well-being require juvenile probation officers to approach each case with the understanding that each youth has a unique set of strengths and needs and that these characteristics should set the foundation for individualized service provision.

Managing cases requires JPOs to design a supervision plan that employs the youth’s strengths, work with youth to identify relevant incentives, facilitate family engagement, and collaborate with communities.

Building a positive relationship with youth starts by immediately providing information to them and their family about the process of probation supervision, providing an orientation to the youth regarding conditions imposed by the court, evaluating the youth for crisis intervention services, and beginning work with the youth and his family on setting goals and objectives.

Six steps for effective case management[1][2]

  1. 1

    Risk and needs Assessment: Acts as a tool for supervision officers to determine what criminogenic risks need to be addressed and the appropriate level of supervision (e.g., electronic monitoring, out of home placement, etc. ) along with needs can be addressed by services that will help promote positive behavior change.

  2. 2

    Identify strengths using motivational interviewing: Risk and needs assessments highlight protective factors (resilience factors) that can help a youth mediate risks. Be sure to meet with the youth and family multiple times to learn about other things the youth is good at. Whether it’s art, reading, school, sports, singing, helping with younger siblings, etc.

    This will help you learn about the family’s strengths as well to help inform how they can help the youth succeed. When meeting with the family and asking them questions, make sure that you are using motivational interviewing strategies to purposefully and tactfully “mine” information from youth and families that will help you to better understand them and how to engage with them in order to create an individualized case plan. Haphazardly asking questions will not be enough during this process, since family and youth engagement and buy-in are imperative for effective probation.

  3. 3

    Supervision planning: Meet with the youth and family multiple times before “finalizing” a case plan. Get input from the youth and supportive adults to set objectives and activities designed to address the youth’s risks and needs to help promote positive behavior change.

  4. 4

    Integrated care: Whether a youth is involved with treatment services or only in community activities, be sure to consistently connect with providers and community members to understand how a youth is doing along the way.

  5. 5

    Routine check-ins: Actively engage the youth and supportive adults to understand and document progress towards their goals.

  6. 6

    Case Closing Outcomes: Document intermediate outcomes for the activities and objectives in the supervision plan at the time of case closing.

Developing a supervision plan

The supervision plan serves as the roadmap and agenda for probation supervision and should be designed to emphasize each youth’s strengths and needs. Every supervision plan must create goals to address community safety, accountability, and positive behavior change. They should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-limited. The plan should outline:

  • clear goals and meaningful objectives identified in collaboration with the youth and family;
  • how the probation officer and youth plan to accomplish those goals; and
  • a timeframe for completing each activity.[3]

Having a clearly outlined structure for the case will help youth know what is expected of them and help promote success. It is important to discuss the plan and any expectations you have of the youth while also explaining what they can expect from you. It may be helpful to develop a set of goals for yourself with the youth so that you are both working toward specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-limited outcomes during the life of the case.

Things to know for planning[4]

  • The youth’s strengths and assets  
  • The youth’s voice and interests
  • The youth’s risk level
  • If applicable, the youth’s response to prior interventions
  • The concerns of any harmed parties
  • The youth’s behavioral health needs (e.g. mental health concerns, substance use, etc).
  • The youth’s cognitive/learning needs (if any)
  • The incentives that will be meaningful for the youth

Goal setting

Adolescent development, collaborative, and strength-based pillars

To create SMARTER goals with youth, make sure to connect with youth and tailor their goals to their strengths and needs. When these goals are not met, having graduated responses in place can help you respond to behavior in a way that reinforces positive behavior and  shows youth that negative behaviors have consequences. By creating goals and holding youth constructively accountable, youth can better understand their actions and how to create positive behavior change in their lives.

More about the pillars and guiding values »

Set SMARTER (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound, evaluated, readjusted) goals

  • Engage youth in planning goals
    • Discuss where they can improve and how they can improve with support from services
    • Engage supportive adults in planning goals, incentives, and approaches to hold youth accountable.
    • Discuss the youth’s and family’s own goals for behavior change and incorporate that information into the case plan where applicable
  • Work with supportive adults to identify incentives and responses to non-compliant behavior that will be relevant to the youth
  • Start out small. Try setting some small, short-term goals with youth to let them practice the process. This can give youth a boost of confidence before moving on to larger goals so that they know they can succeed.
  • Set 1 to 2 goals to hold youth accountable and another 2–3 goals to develop/improve skills

Template for SMART goal creation

What do the youth and family want to accomplish? Goal
What qualifies as successful achievement of the goal?
Who and or what program(s)/service(s) need to be involved?
How does the youth need to do it?
When should the youth complete the goal?
How can you measure the youth’s progress?
Action statements
If goal is not being met—Describe Why (e.g. transportation, cost, cognitive differences)
Steps to take to mediate reason

PO safety and wellness

An important part of a juvenile probation officer’s job is to maintain community safety by using effective case management practices and research informed practices, but it is also important to manage your own stress and be cognizant of trauma and burnout in order to protect yourself from an unsafe environment that can impact your overall wellness.


You and your fellow probation officers are often expected to take on a role that resembles a social worker or case manager, but some of your responsibilities such as serving warrants and conducting home visits, are more akin to law enforcement. Balancing these expectations and in situations with a youth, their families, and/or their communities can be difficult. It is important to know that approximately 10% of law enforcement officers were assaulted in 2018.[5] Even though JPOs deal mostly with youth, there are situations in which you may enter an unknown situation where a youth is violent or encounter an adult that is violent. This can happen during home visits, in your office, or anywhere else that you frequent. Keeping yourself safe requires you to be informed and properly trained. Being up to date on de-escalation tactics, self-defense training, weapons training, and undergoing scenario-based training will help you feel competent when you are in a potentially dangerous situation. Building positive relationships with the youth, families, and communities you work with and establishing mutual respect can help improve your physical safety.

Another form of safety to consider is legal safety. As a JPO, you can be found liable under state tort law, federal and state civil rights laws, and you can be found criminally liable. Some legal protections exist, such as “good faith” and “public duty doctrine” defenses, but these suggestions can help prevent this from becoming an issue:[6]

  • Keep good records of your activities—You may be required to account for events that occurred in previous years, and without a detailed report, there will be no way to truthfully represent what happened during the incident in question. This could lead to an unfair interpretation of your or the youth’s actions.    
  • Know the rules and regulations of your department and the state
  • Have legal counsel for when you have questions
  • Act in good faith in the scope of your duties
  • Get approval from your supervisor

Maintaining a feeling of safety by receiving proper training and reducing the likelihood of liability can help reduce stress and burnout and will allow you to not exacerbate situations in which there is risk.


Stress as a JPO can be caused by things such as large caseloads, paperwork, deadlines, lack of training, dangerous situations, disliking a supervisor, low salary, and feeling responsible for youth making mistakes, and this has an effect on how well JPOs can do their jobs.


Many youth that you provide services to have gone through traumatic experiences. This trauma can happen at home, in the criminal justice system, or elsewhere in their personal lives. Even though this is not your trauma, you can experience secondary trauma as a response to hearing about many traumatic experiences from others. Secondary trauma can occur from one incident or this process can occur over a period of time in which you are hearing about traumatic things frequently. Some examples of possible secondary trauma sources are if a youth that has been/is on your caseload passes away or hearing about abuse a youth has gone through.

Even though the events you hear about are not your firsthand experiences, they can have a real effect on your mental health. Taking this trauma home with you may affect your personal life and it results in your time away from work not being as much of a break as it should be, leading to more stress and burnout.

If you feel like you have experienced a traumatic event, contact your department’s response team that should be in place when traumatic incidents happen.


Burnout, a feeling of cynicism and depersonalization, can be caused by stress and trauma and the workplace. It not only affects your mental health, but it can also negatively impact your job performance. Those experiencing burnout have been shown to exhibit a stigma against those with mental health challenges, which can directly impede you from doing your job and providing the best services possible for those in your care.[7][8]

Coping and prevention

If you are experiencing stress, trauma, or burnout while at work, there are some ways to prevent and cope with these feelings so that you can provide the best supervision services possible without sacrificing your mental health and well-being. Here are some different ways to cope and prevent stress trauma, and burnout:[9][10]

  • Check to see if your department has an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) a confidential workplace service that employers pay for. EAPs help employees respond to a range of work and life stressors. If you have access to such a program, use it as needed.
  • Psychological self-care
    • Mindful breathing
    • Rituals
    • Journaling
    • Cognitive awareness
    • Sense of humor
  • Physical self-care
    • Exercise
    • Healthy eating—make sure to eat breakfast
    • Stay up to date on healthcare by going to the doctor
  • Avoid harmful approaches such as:
    • Overeating
    • Excessive alcohol
    • Illegal drug use
  • Healthy relationships
    • Work on forming positive relationships at home and at work
    • Be a part of a participatory work environment[11]
  • Value outside interests
    • Choose hobbies that you enjoy and can lead to fulfillment and purpose outside of work

In order to try and recognize stress and burnout, pay attention to your mood and how you’re feeling while you are at work and at home. Make sure to engage in activities that recharge your batteries. If you are already experiencing stress, trauma, or burnout, use healthy coping strategies that have worked for you in the past or try new things that you think will have a restorative effect. Some common coping strategies that have been shown to help with these feelings are physical exercise and talking to friends or family.  

Your supervisor should have some sort of group care in place for you and others in your office to prevent and cope with these issues. In Allegheny and Dauphin County, there are Critical Incident Response Teams, made up of JPOs, that responds to traumatic events and probation officers’ needs. These teams are only used when an incident occurs, but having something like this in place for everyday problems can help reduce the stress, trauma, and burnout of everyday life as a JPO.


  1. The National Center for Juvenile Justice (1991). The Desktop Guide to Good Juvenile Probation Practice. Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice.
  2. Thomas, D., Torbet, P., and Deal, T. (2011). Implementing Effective Case Management Strategies: A Guide for Probation Administrators. Technical Assistance to the Juvenile Court Bulletin. Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice.
  3. Thomas, D., Torbet, P., and Deal, T. (2011). Implementing Effective Case Management Strategies: A Guide for Probation Administrators. Technical Assistance to the Juvenile Court Bulletin. Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice.
  4. Thomas, D., Torbet, P., and Deal, T. (2011). Implementing Effective Case Management Strategies: A Guide for Probation Administrators. Technical Assistance to the Juvenile Court Bulletin. Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice.
  5. Federal Bureau of Investigation (2019). About Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 2018.
  6. Griffin, P. & Torbet, P. (Eds.). (2002). Desktop Guide to Good Juvenile Probation Practice. Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice.
  7. Salyers, M.P., Hood, B.J., Schwartz, K., Alexander, A.O., & Aalsma, M.C. (2015). The experience, impact, and management of professional burnout among probation officers in juvenile justice settings. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 54(3).
  8. White, L.M., Aalsma, M.C., Holloway, E.D., Adams, E.L., & Salyers, M.P. (2015). Job-related burnout among juvenile probation officers: Implications for mental health stigma and competency. Psychological Services, 12(3), 291–302.
  9. Gonzales, A.R., Schofield, R.B., & Hart, S.V. (2005). Stress among probation and parole officers and what can be done about it. National Institute for Justice Research for Practice.
  10. Life Solutions (n.d.). Participants guide: Resiliency psycho-educational support group for populations exposed to frequent trauma at work.
  11. Dir, A.L., Saldana, L., Chapman, J.E., & Aalsma, M.C. (2019). Burnout and mental health stigma among juvenile probation officers: The moderating effect of participatory atmosphere. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 46, 167–174.