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How to become a probation officer: education and training in Europe

This article is about a CEP-funded research project. 

‘What kind of education do probation officers in Europe need at the start of their career?’ and ‘What kind of extra training do European probation officers need during their career?’ are the main questions CEP wanted to find answers to. That is why a research call was opened for its member. Joep Hanrath, lecturer and researcher at the University of Applied Sciences Utrecht carried out the research. We spoke to him about the project, the outcomes and the possibilities for the future.

The Dutch Situation

The project caught Joep Harnath’s attention, because he works with this topic daily. “If you offer a bachelor in social work, you need to implement courses about the criminal justice sector as well. Together with organisations like the probation and prison services,  forensic psychiatry as well as mandated youth care, the University of Applied Sciences Utrecht has developed a set of competences for the implementation of courses about the criminal justice sector in social work bachelors. These competences are now integrated in the bachelor curriculum of social work. The students need to have basic knowledge about, for example the work of a probation officer, when they finish their bachelor.” Further development after the bachelor is provided by in-company educational institutions. More experienced forensic social professionals are offered a program to obtain a master degree developed in close cooperation with professionals in the field.

European Probation Education

The scale that was used to measure the level of education in the countries that participated in the research project is the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED). “We see that the minimum ISCED level that is asked when probation officers start working for a probation organisation is occasionally 5, but the average level is 6-7. This stands for a professional or academic bachelor and master. It is interesting to see that the level of education for probation officers is almost the same in every participating country.”

Joep Hanrath also found that most of the probation services offer extra training for their probation officers during the course of their career. According to him this is very important for these organisations. “We see that they all offer trainings about more specific topics, like protocols or electronic monitoring. The variety of extra training is very wide.”

In December 2018, a meeting with the participating countries took place in Utrecht. “They indicated that they have difficulties with combining good training programs. We can’t focus only on the trendy topics, like radicalisation. More consistent themes need to form a basis. How do we preserve a good combination?” Hanrath thinks it is ‘reassuring’ that the level of education in Europe for probations officers is the same in almost every country.

Future Networks

According to Joep Hanrath education and training is a very important topic in the probation sector, therefore he hopes that his findings will result in the creation of a network through which probation professionals can share knowledge about their training activities. “It would be wonderful if we could create a sort of ‘marketplace’, where professionals can find each other. What I found through my research is that people find education very important, there is a great need to share and learn from each other.” He was, in a good way, surprised by the fact that the participating probation officers indicated that they find a European network for education and training very important. ‘I absolutely loved that people are so eager learn from each other so badly’.

Joep Hanrath would like to stay involved in possible international networks with the University of Applied Sciences Utrecht. “Europe becomes smaller, students travel to study in another European country all the time. It would be good if they develop a ‘European feeling’ and learn what it is like to work together with people from other countries. In that way, it is easier for them to include these experiences in their work after they finished university.”

The research report will be published soon.


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