What Is A Juvenile Court Liaison and How Does Their Work Intersect with Applied Behavior Analysis?

Juvenile courts exist because society and the legal system recognize that kids that commit crimes are generally better off in a system that favors rehabilitation over punishment. With most of their lives still ahead of them, the right kind of support and attention for juvenile offenders can help them make better choices and find safer and healthier paths in the future.

It’s a complex process, and one that requires a great deal of empathy, expertise, and effort on the part of a team of social workers, educators, and law enforcement authorities. The juvenile court liaison is one of the linchpins of that team trying to turn around young lives.

Applied Behavior Analysis in Working with Juvenile Offenders

Applied behavior analysis is finding more and more acceptance and becoming more and more integrated into juvenile justice and treatment programs, and it’s a field that juvenile court liaisons will find increasingly useful as a resource for their rehabilitation-related efforts.

In order to provide effective rehabilitation, courts and other participants in the system have to understand where the behavior originated. A juvenile court liaison provides them with the expertise to assess the child and offer insights and recommendations based on their evaluation.

In many cases, both insights and recommendations can be found in the field of applied behavior analysis. Although court liaisons may not perform such behavioral therapy themselves today, they may make recommendations that it be used in some cases, or otherwise be asked to participate in a treatment plan. It’s also quite likely they will rely on functional behavior assessments performed by licensed and certificated ABAs (Applied Behavior Analysts) to make their own evaluations. And they may also be involved in some treatment programs involving Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) designed by ABAs.

Juvenile Court Liaison Job Description

Court liaisons help grease the slowly-churning gears of the juvenile justice system by ensuring that all involved parties communicate with one another and provide information and meet deadlines as required by law and court rules. Those entities may include:

  • Lawyers
  • Police departments
  • Social services workers
  • School districts
  • Parents
  • The juvenile defendant themselves

The position may also be called:

  • Juvenile court officer
  • Juvenile justice court liaison
  • Family court liaison
  • Juvenile court liaison counselor

JCLs may work directly for the courts, for school districts, or, increasingly, for private companies that contract out their services to local government agencies.

Rules for juvenile courts can vary significantly from state to state, and that can influence the role of a juvenile court liaison. Even the definition of ‘juvenile’ differs, with states like New York drawing the line at 16-year-olds, while others, like Washington, may go all the way up to 18. It’s a good idea to investigate how your jurisdiction handles juvenile offenses to see how JCLs fit into the system.

What Do Juvenile Court Liaisons Do?

The day-to-day work of a juvenile court liaison may differ based on the employer and the focus of the services they provide. For example, JCLs working for school districts can expect to spend more time working on truancy and attendance issues, visiting with students who have chronic attendance issues and their families to attempt to rectify the issue. JCLs who are working for healthcare and social service agencies may spend more time conducting screening and assessments for the courts, or acting as part of a juvenile’s supervisory team once they have been granted probation or entered into a diversion program.

Some JCLs also engage in more traditional social services such as coordinating delinquency prevention programs, like after-school sports or gaming activities. In some cases, they may develop individual treatment plans, and even monitor the implementation and progress of offenders through the course of those programs.

Most JCLs also have some advocacy duties with respect to the juveniles whose cases they are overseeing. It can be taken as a given that any kid who has ended up in the juvenile justice system has experienced a failure at some point in their adult supervision and support system. While the courts cannot step in wholesale, they may expect the JCL to act as an impartial advocate for the interests of the child.

Because they are so heavily involved in legal proceedings, paper-pushing is an integral part of the job for most juvenile court liaisons. They may be responsible for making reports, filing legal documents, creating assessments and recommendations, or updating clinical or legal case charts. They frequently also spend considerable time looking up records from schools, courts, and other agencies to provide a complete picture to court officers and judges involved in active cases.

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How To Become a Juvenile Court Liaison

Practice in a sensitive area like juvenile justice is no place for lightweights. Most JCL jobs require both advanced education, like a master’s degree, and a year or more of experience in either criminal justice or behavioral services.

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Juvenile Court Liaison?

It’s possible to get a JCL position in some states with only a bachelor’s degree, although it must usually be in counseling, criminal justice, sociology, or some related social science.

In most cases, however, you’ll need to earn a master’s degree at the minimum. The field can be either psychology, social work, counseling, or another behavioral area like applied behavior analysis or psychology.

An advanced degree in any of these areas will equip you with the expert knowledge you’ll need to evaluate and differentiate behavioral and drug or alcohol dependency issues, as well as making recommendations for both treatment and rehabilitation.

It’s important to select only programs that are properly accredited in the specialty area where you plan to practice. Social work degrees, for example, should be with programs that are accredited by the CSWE (Council on Social Work Education)… while marriage and family therapy programs should be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy (COAMFTE)… and other counseling degrees should be accredited by either the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) or Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP).

Do You Need A License To Be a Juvenile Court Liaison?

You typically do not need a specific license in order to become a juvenile court liaison. However, many individual positions either require or prefer applicants who have a state license as a social worker or marriage and family therapist (MFT). In other jurisdictions, you may have to undergo court-specific training to take the job.

What If I Decide to Earn BCBA Certification?

Becoming certified as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) is not currently a requirement, but that may change in the future in some positions. Today, getting a master’s in psychology, applied behavior analysis, or education is required by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), in addition to completing practical experience and undergoing subject-specific education through an ABAI (Association for Behavioral Analysis International)-approved Verified Course Sequence (VCS).

In 2022, however, the BACB has decided to open up the BCBA to candidates with master’s in other fields. Doing so is expected to both broaden the perspectives and ranks of BCBAs as well as bring more behavioral analysis expertise into fields that could benefit from it. If you have a master’s, you may be able to enroll in a post-graduate VCS certificate program to fulfill that part of the BCBA requirements.

Becoming a licensed social worker or MFT is another reason to get a master’s degree, since most states require a master’s degree from a fully accredited program as part of their license requirements. They’ll also need you to demonstrate a considerable amount of post-graduate supervised clinical experience in the field, and require you to pass a battery of tests on both subject-specific matters and legal and ethical obligations.

Typical Salaries for Juvenile Court Liaisons

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track juvenile court liaison salary or employment levels independently, and, due to the varied nature of the work from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, they can fall into a number of different categories, with different median salary expectations. The following statistics provide average salaries for a number of mental health practitioners at the 25th, 50th, 75th and 90th percentiles in 2021:

  • Health Education Specialists: $46,770, $60,600, $78,220, $102,480
  • Rehabilitation Counselors – $30,610, $38,560, $52,920, $65,880
  • Social Workers – $46,340, $61,190, $80,040, $93,540

Naturally, for positions requiring a master’s degree, you can expect pay rates closer to the top end of the range, while those that require only bachelor’s degrees will be in the mid-range or near the bottom.

You should also consider differences in total compensation revolving around benefits. Traditional positions working directly for courts or school districts are government jobs with the associated stability, pension, and generous healthcare benefits that come with them. Private agencies that are increasingly providing contractors for those roles may have higher salary rates, but less in the way of benefits.

As an exciting position that has the potential to transform lives, however, a lot of compensation for many juvenile court liaisons comes from satisfaction with the work itself.

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2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Health Education Specialists; Rehabilitation Counselors; and Social Workers, All Other reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed January 2023.