Probation Work Under Civil Service, March 17, 1906

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Probation Work Under Civil Service.

Jane Addams,
Hull House, Chicago.

The work of probation officers of the Juvenile Court of Cook County in a sense preceded the creation of the court itself. As the Juvenile Court was the outgrowth of the demand of people who had much to do with delinquent children, and who felt the inadequacy of the existing machinery, so their efforts with these children had given them a probation officer's experience. This was notably true of Mrs. Flower and of Mrs. A. P. Stevens who was made the first probation officer, and whose district for a time covered the entire city.

As the work quickly became too heavy for one person and the city was divided into districts, other probation officers were selected from people who had had dealings with wayward children largely in connection with charitable organizations. Some of these officers were paid for by their societies and others by a committee which was informally organized with Mrs. Flower as its head, and afterwards became incorporated as a Juvenile Court Committee. By June, 1905, the force contained eighteen officers, whose full working time was paid for by the committee, five other officers who also gave their entire time, as well as several volunteers who took special cases. The committee had secured as chief probation officer the services of Henry W. Thurston who had been for many years connected with the Cook County Normal School and whose educational training gave the work of the probation officers a distinct pedagogical trend. This committee also sustained a detention home on West Adams street, which took charge of boys pending trial, and although the committee paid the rent of the house and the salary of its head, the county and the city funds supplied most of the actual cost of maintaining the children. The Chicago School Board also furnished a school room and paid the services of a teacher. There was thus a monetary recognition of the probation work on the part of the public authorities even while it was under a volunteer committee and it made the effort to "keep out of politics" a little artificial.

Recognizing this, the committee itself was largely instrumental in passing the bill through the legislature in the session of 1904-1905 authorizing the payment of the probation officers from county funds and giving them the status of county officials. This, of course, placed the appointment of the officers under civil service regulations.

Civil service in America has unfortunately so long been considered as a device for "keeping the rascals out" and protecting the "public crib," that to many people it seemed a blunt instrument to be applied to the selecting of a person whose mission was so delicate as that of a probation officer, and the success of whose work must of course depend so largely upon the personal relations he was able to establish with the wards of the court. In short the committee was faced with the query as to whether a civil service examination could properly test the ability and fitness for probation work.

It was perhaps fortunate that the Civil Service Board of Cook county had recently had the experience of putting the [employees] of the County Hospital and County Infirmary under civil service rules, that they had worked out the matter very successfully in many details and had become convinced that civil service examinations properly modified and adapted to the offices desired were not only successful in keeping out undesirable people, but the best possible method for securing able people.

The committee selected to make out the questions consisted of Judge Tuthill, the first judge to sit in the Juvenile Court, Justice Hurley, who represented the Home and Aid and other Catholic societies for placing children; Judge Carter of the County Court; Mr. Moulton, secretary of the Civil Service League of Chicago, and since made president of the new State Civil Service Board, and the writer of the present article. The same [page 2] committee that made out the questions also marked the papers for two examinations, the first for the regular staff of probation officers and the second for the chief probation officer. In both sets of questions, while knowledge of the law was insisted upon, an effort was made to place the emphasis on such test cases and situations as would reveal to the examining board something of the judgement and tact of the candidate as well as his attitude toward the wayward children and toward their parents. The perfunctory civil service tests were reduced to the minimum permitted by the rules of the County Civil Service Board.

One hundred and fifty-six persons took the first examination, of whom one hundred passed; among these, eighteen were upon the then existing staff of probation officers. Of these, ten passed so high as to be among the first twenty-three and were, therefore, transferred at once to the county [payroll]. All but two of the eighteen were among the first fifty. The Juvenile Court Committee which was formerly responsible for the salaries of the probation officers and also for the quality of their work, still remains active. They supplement the officers in the heaviest district by three assistant officers, to whom half-salaries are paid, and they add to the entire corps of officers three who are much needed, but for whom the County [Payroll] does not as yet provide. One of the latter gives her entire time to finding proper homes for boys who are released from the John Worthy School. The educational and moral influence of the committee is of course undiminished, and they are still responsible for the management of the detention home as they were for its establishment.

Mr. Thurston passed at the head of the list in the examination for chief probation officer, and has thus had experience in directing the work of both staffs: the one selected carefully by a volunteer committee, and the other, the result of civil service examination. The following is quoted directly from him: "On the whole it may be said that the new persons who come into the service as a result of the examination, compare favorably with those who have been selected previously by a committee. Some of them are among the best. In a few cases where they proved inefficient the power of removal under civil service rules is adequate."

There is little doubt that the present staff of probation officers is a triumph for the civil service method of selecting officials. We sometimes seem to forget that we are exactly the same people, whether we come together as a volunteer committee initiating a much cherished scheme, or whether we use our best endeavors to aid a Civil Service Commission, and, therefore, may be regarded as "political appointees". The task before us all is to make civil service examinations more effective, more adaptable, more reasonable, and by guaranteeing an honorable and continuous career in the service of the state, to attract to it the most capable and conscientious of our fellow-citizens. The Civil Service Board of Cook county has performed many valuable services and the recent examination once more demonstrates its courage and intelligence.