Alumni in Action: Intensive Juvenile Probation

Lindsey Dufresne—Probation Officer
Delta County, Michigan

I'll start out by saying I love my job!! I never thought in a million years that I would ever be a probation officer.  In fact, when I was still in school, I don't think I would have thought of probation officer as  a social work position.  Now, after being in the position, I realize that it's totally social work! In fact, I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have my methods courses, my policy courses, human behavior courses, and yes, even statistics courses. They all taught me how to work with people, understand people, and how to be  professional. I miss NMU so much!

My job title is Probation Officer for Probate Court of Delta County. I work in the co-probation program, which is a very intensive program. This means that I share my caseload with another probation officer, and my responsibilities are to visit my kids every night in their home. I check up on them to see if they are obeying their orders. Often times I check to see if they're home, obeying their curfew, using any substances. I also check their homework and attendance at school. I pretty much just make sure that they are staying out of trouble, and doing what the court told them to do. Many of our clients are on the tether, so the Department of Corrections is in my circle of 5 on my cell phone. Since my job duties are to visit my kids in the evening, I work from 1-9pm.  Officers in the co-probation program works in pairs so I have a partner, Matt, which keeps things pretty safe. Not to mention that we are issued hand cuffs and mace !  I've never had to use them though, thank God!

Probate court works with juveniles under the age of 17 (Offenders age 17 and up are handled through district and circuit court as adults). I will only have a maximum of six kids on my caseload. The reason for this is that my partner and I see our kids every evening, and even though six clients seems like a pretty low number, our nights can get very hectic!  

Transitioning from my internship, working with mentally ill adults to working with sassy teenagers was a bit challenging. I really didn't start feeling comfortable with myself doing this job until recently. It just all of a sudden clicked. For a long time I didn't know if I was doing it right, or saying the right things. (The story of Carol looking at her index cards comes to mind ) It really does just take time to feel like you’re doing a good job.

Overall, I am extremely satisfied with my job.  I am very content with my wage. I make $17.20 an hour and get full benefits. I've grown to love working with the kids; many of them really open up to us and are fun be with during our incentive outings.  We take the kids on an outing every week. Sometimes we go to a movie, or the Wallace Zoo, or Hogback Mountain.  Whatever activities we plan for the week, it’s just a blast! 

I feel very blessed that I not only found this job so quickly after graduation, but that it has turned out to be so satisfying and professionally rewarding.  I found this job almost by accident.  I had reluctantly gone to the gym one night with my fiancé, and I was complaining out loud that I couldn't find a job. Some guy on a machine asked me what my degree was, and he told me to apply with him. I asked him who he was, and where he worked; he said "Probate Court".  I was so excited that I just couldn't finish my workout, and the next day I turned in my resume` and cover letter. Three weeks later, I had an interview, and then I got the call that I got the job a few days later. I swear it was fate.

Looking back and thinking about how I might have been better prepared for my position,  I wish I would have had more experience working with reluctant clients.  I know that in social work methods classes that we participated in role plays that included a few scenarios that involved mandated clients. However, all my clients are mandated,  and that factor can make working with them  a bit frustrating. I am very thankful that I had the Introduction to Law course, because I use that information a lot! Because I was a traditional student, I’ve had to deal with being a young person in the role of an authority figure.  Kids are asking me all the time how old I am, and I don't ever tell them. However, in this job, you work with a lot of parents. I'm sad to say that I've had a few parents that didn't believe I was a college graduate, or that I knew what in the world I was talking about. That can be frustrating too, but I have to remember that I did earn a college degree, and it’s not your age but your expertise that matters.

I think anyone coming out of the social work program at NMU can definitely do this job. In fact, I work with two other  NMU BSW alums.   My coworker, Leslie Stanek,  graduated from Northern in the 1990s and  my supervisor, Tammy Wetthuhn started her career here as a new BSW probation officer just like I am doing now. Even though on the job training is essential, I felt very prepared by the social work program to start my job.  Graduating as a generalist really means, a generalist. When I started my job search I wasn't looking for probation, but I'm glad it found me. My only advice is to keep an open mind, and know that you have to start somewhere.