Keeping it All in Check: Youth Justice Programs Coordinator

For this week’s blog post, I had the pleasure of interviewing a “Youth Justice Programs Coordinator” from a non- profit social service agency in Southern Ontario. The main responsibilities in this role are to “coordinate services between high risk youth and probation services, and to act as a buffer between youth and all system agencies”. At this agency, the Youth Justice Programs include Community Support, Intensive Supervision & Support, Youth Justice Directed Counselling, and the Family Program. Youth in these programs are there involuntarily on a probation order. To obtain this position, this employee pursued a Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Sociology, and gained work experience at a group home providing treatment for adolescence with mental health issues.  Next, they worked as an Outreach Worker for high- risk street youth facing addiction and mental health issues, before becoming involved at their current agency with Youth Justice Programs. I should note that during this time, a post-graduate degree was not required for this role but is in present day.

What’s it Really Like?

The role of a “Youth Justice Programs Coordinator” is very demanding, and requires a committed person who can work around the clock. They oversee 17 contract workers whom they provide 24/7 support to by answering their phone at any time to assist contract workers and other staff with matters concerning youth. Additionally, this employee oversees programs in 4 different counties’; meaning their work is spread out over a large geographical area. Although it’s a big job, possessing qualities such as “flexibility, patience, and creativity” help to make it all possible. Additionally, it is highly important to have “clinical skills, and an awareness of how systems work to be able to advocate for youth, hold case conferences, and to fill in any gaps in services”. Lastly, with so much on the shoulders of a Programs Coordinator, it’s useful to try to keep things light and to exercise “a sense of humor”. After all, they hold the most liability, take on the greatest risks, and are held accountable by probation services and the community.

The most satisfying part of being a “Youth Justice Programs Coordinator” was said to be “the direct service time with youth and families. The most gratification comes from including families when it comes to working with youth, as many agencies don’t. Mothers call me all the time… I love the inclusion.” Alternatively, the most stressful part of this role is holding programs accountable for working within their mandate. The Ministry of Youth Justice provides a service description for what programs are mandated to provide. The amount of funding a program receives is related to their mandate- which directly effects the number of clients that can receive services, and the number of hours they can provide services for. Therefore, when programs aren’t working within their mandates, the “Youth Justice Programs Coordinator” is obligated to address those issues.  

Workplace Values & Culture

The strongest values in this type of work include sharing a vision and mandate. The “Youth Justice Programs Coordinator” and the 17 contract workers they oversee practice ongoing communication, and respectfully share the liabilities of working with high-risk youth. They can be described as the “best workers!”. They all share the same passion for rehabilitating youth, reintegrating them into the community, and ensuring a safe community. Although a “Youth Justice Programs Coordinator” may not have much work-life balance, contract workers have significant flexibility in theirs. Their contract requires them to deliver services 20 hours per month, and gives them the ability to choose which locations they would like to work in and how they want to support clients (for example, delivering services 1 to 1 or with another worker).

Industry Trends & Advice

In order to become a “Youth Justice Programs Coordinator”, it is recommended to first obtain an Undergraduate Degree in Sociology, and to gain any experience working with at-risk youth. It is especially helpful to have experience providing direct services to the community in order to show an agency “you are able to work independently, manage a flexible schedule, and be accountable to a program”. Then, it is necessary to pursue post-graduate education, such as a Masters in Social Work. Having a combination of education and experience is vital for this role.

After being asked; “if you could do things all over again, would you choose the same path?”, they confidently answered with “Absolutely. I love it. And I believe in the work that we do to support kids and families”. It is important to consider that the field of social services has a high rate of burnouts. In that case, a “Youth Justice Programs Coordinator” is also prepared to do other types of roles, such as coordinator positions, human resources management, career counselling, crisis work, or consulting. Within the next 5 years the responsibilities in this role are subject to change, depending on two main factors. Primarily, ministry accreditation can affect the programs overseen by the “Youth Justice Program Coordinator” depending on how well they are able to show credit for the services they provide. Secondarily, the conditions of the provincial government can affect programs as well- in terms of the funding they provide programs with, or the cutbacks they enforce. For instance, currently there have been cutbacks in funding to social services under the Ford government, hindering the services being provided to the youth.

With that being said…

The best advice the “Youth Justice Programs Coordinator” would give is to “be aware of your own mental health and transference, and plan to bring that into the room with a client. You can’t do this work if you’re unable to acknowledge the counter- transference that can take place, and understand your own personality, temperament, and working style”. This means it is important to understand and recognize that individuals can redirect their feelings and emotions onto another person- this goes for both the client, and the worker. Furthermore, “Listen to your gut. Be able to be emotionally present, but also be able to go home and leave your work, at work… and get a pet!”.