If your goal is to work in a profession where you get to help people going through tough times, probation officer and social worker both apply. However, the people you serve and the situations they face are quite different. Each of these careers have pros and cons that may meet your more specific motivations.
Probation Officer Basics
A probation officer oversees the court-mandated period of probation for a law offender. This process normally begins with a directive from the judge on the length and terms of probation. You meet with the offender periodically to ensure compliance with requirements and to oversee progress in finding employment and utilizing community assistance programs when useful. If someone violates probation, you report this to the court. At the end of the probationary period, you normally appear in court to testify that the offender met the terms outlined.
Pros and Cons
Probation officers earned a reasonable salary of $52,380 per year as of May 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Officers play an important role in the legal justice system of helping ex-prisoners transition back into society. You might experience personal reward from seeing someone find work, reconnect with family and get back on her feet. On the flip side, officers sometimes meet with violent offenders or people unable to successfully assimilate. You may have to have someone arrested for probation violations. You also have to appear in court periodically to make probation recommendations and to follow-up on offenders.
Social Worker Basics
Government agencies and community service organizations are typical work settings for a social worker. In this career, you manage a client caseload and provide basic advice and support for people struggling to find employment or support a family. A key role for social workers is to help people get connected with housing and government assistance, such as welfare and educational programs. You normally meet with clients periodically in their home or in your office.
Pros and Cons
Pay for social work is very similar to probation officer pay. The average annual salary as of May 2012 was $54,870, according to the bureau. Social workers also may feel similar intrinsic value from helping clients and families find employment and get back on their feet. A drawback is that social workers can get stressed from seeing the dire situations many clients live in, especially when kids are involved. Typical agencies and nonprofits also have significant budget challenges, which may limit your ability to help in some cases.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012: Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012: Social Workers, All Others
- California Employment Development Department: Probation Officers and Parole Agents
- USAEducation.Info: Social Worker as a Career
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