The Role of Social Workers in Juvenile Justice

by JB Quinn, contributing writer

In Rutherford County, Tennessee, Judge Donna Scott reportedly witnessed a juvenile justice system that jailed children regularly and for more extended periods, compared to other counties in the state. In cases such as this, it’s evident that the justice system fails to uphold children’s rights. It should be noted that most circumstances surrounding children who come in conflict with the law are of a social nature. A child’s difficulties can include a lack of education or employment, poverty, substance abuse, and separation.

All those considered, a UNICEF report on juvenile justice states that these systems should collaborate with social workers, especially in terms of case management and post-release follow-ups. Social workers understand a child’s behavior, circumstances, and environment to generate interventions that prevent them from reoffending. This is why being a social worker is more than a career, it is a passion. Those who have a comprehensive educational background in social work will have studied human behavior, juvenile delinquency, and social justice to become advocates for the underrepresented youth. This knowledge, alongside practicum experience in correctional facilities or probation centers, allows social workers to promote and protect children’s rights in the justice system.

In this article, we provide a more in-depth discussion of the role social workers play in juvenile justice.

  1. Facilitates safe psychosocial assessments

Psychosocial assessments allow the juvenile justice system to gain more insights into their client’s problems. A study published by Asian Social Work Journal showed that social workers gather data on the different aspects of a child’s life. With this information, they’ll identify which area needs the most attention and effort for intervention. Take, for example, a social worker who handles a young boy with behavioral issues in school. When the assessment process is utilized, a social worker can identify that the problem was caused by the child’s learning disability or fraught family situation. Social workers can suggest better strategies to alleviate these problems, like individualized education plans. Changing their client’s environment can help decrease the chances of delinquent behavior.

  1. Composes social inquiry reports

A diversion mechanism is a process that gauges the responsibility and treatment of a child who committed a criminal act. A primary tool in diversion is a social inquiry report. Social workers draw up these reports and typically comprise data on the child’s life. It touches on one’s sociological and psychological information, health and education status, and family background. These reports are crucial to determine the best action in light of the child’s offense. As social workers are closely involved in preparing social inquiry reports, they can also open a more productive and informed discussion during pre-trial. Our previous post ‘Fighting the Real Enemy’ mentioned that to maintain a more civil and positive conversation with others, it’s crucial to leverage facts to explain one’s view. With social inquiry reports as the basis, social workers can present a more nuanced understanding of why a child committed a crime.

  1. Offers support during sentences or community service

Custodial sentences can be spent in numerous settings. These include young offender institutions, secure training centers, or secure children’s homes. As the referenced UNICEF report explains, a social worker’s availability is important during these times. This is because social workers can strengthen support for the children while undergoing custodial sentences. Children who have lost their liberty are usually robbed of other opportunities like schooling. In these cases, social workers can recommend and mobilize services like education or NGOs to provide better detention measures for their clients. Social workers can also monitor supervision orders and work as probation officers if they’re specialized. In some cases, they may be tasked to ensure the completion of measures like community service.

  1. Assists in the release process

Social workers become increasingly vital before and during the time children are released. Social workers will work with other organizations to provide positive prospects upon a child’s release. Continued education, employment, and vocational training are only a few arrangements that help children reintegrate into society. The Asian Social Work Journal study above also shared how social workers can train parents on delinquency prevention. Child-rearing skills and effective family management are part of this training. But beyond those subjects, social workers primarily focus on communication skills between parents and children. Effective listening, specifically on the part of parents, is crucial as it helps children seamlessly adjust to their home environment.


About the author: JB Quinn is a freelance writer and researcher with a keen interest in social work. She writes with a firm conviction that every child is deserving of care and equal opportunities. In her spare time, she enjoys visiting animal shelters or cozying up with a good book.