Youth mentoring is the process of matching mentors with young people who need or want a caring, responsible adult in their lives. Adult mentors are usually unrelated to the child or teen and work as volunteers through a community-, school-, or church-based social service program. The goal of youth mentoring programs is to improve the well-being of the child by providing a role model that can support the child academically, socially and/or personally. This goal can be accomplished through school work, communication, and/or activities. Goals and settings within a mentoring program vary by country because of cultural values.
Although informal mentoring relationships exist, formal, high-quality mentoring matches made through local or state mentoring organizations are often the most effective.
According to The Encyclopedia of Informal Education:
"The classic definition of mentoring is of an older experienced guide who is acceptable to the young person and who can help ease the transition to adulthood by a mix of support and challenge. In this sense it is a developmental relationship in which the young person is inducted into the world of adulthood."
Research on Mentoring Effects
Much research has been conducted on youth mentoring with the intent of determining whether or not there are positive benefits for youth and, if so, under what conditions the positive effects are most likely to occur. The evidence is somewhat mixed, however. According to some studies, not all mentoring programs are found to have positive effects. Furthermore, some studies that demonstrated positive outcomes for youth suggested that benefits from mentoring do not always last for an extended period of time after the intervention has ended.
One method of determining how effective mentoring relationships have become is with the use of meta-analysis. Meta-analysis allows a researcher to synthesize several studies and has been said to provide an unbiased, objective, and quantifiable method to test for significant differences in the results found across studies. Two studies utilizing this method are presented below.
In a meta-analysis of 55 studies on mentoring programs, the overall effectiveness of mentoring as well as the factors relating to variation in mentoring effects were studied. In this study, articles found on popular databases as well as possible search engines (such as Yahoo, etc.) that were published between 1970 and 1998 were selected and evaluated. Findings from this meta-analysis indicated that there was an overall positive, though modest, effect from mentoring. The effect appeared to be especially beneficial for youth classified as “at risk” (see at-risk students) or “disadvantaged”. Further findings indicated that effect size may be increased with the use of specific strategies and practices, such as providing continual support and structure to the mentor and relationship. It is important to note, however, that this study cannot imply causality and further research is recommended to explore this relationship.
In another meta-analysis, 39 articles published between 1970 and 2005 were analyzed. Articles were required to measure a quantifiable effect on either delinquency, aggression, substance use, or academic achievement. The overall effects were found to be positive with delinquency as well as with the other outcomes studied. Effects were stronger with the delinquent and aggressive outcomes, while still remaining moderate with the group measuring substance use and academic achievement. This suggests that mentoring programs are especially effective with delinquent behavior.
Use of Best Practices
Research indicates that the use of specific best practices can be used to improve the mentoring experience.
In the meta-analysis listed above, several best practices were found to increase effect sizes in mentoring programs:
- Monitoring of program implementation
- Screening of prospective mentors
- Matching of mentors and youth on the basis of one or more relevant criteria
- Both pre-match and ongoing training
- Supervision for mentor
- Support group for mentors
- Structured activities for mentors and youth
- Parent support or involvement components
- Expectations for both frequency of contact and length of relationship
- Mentor background in a helping role
In addition, there are several mentor websites that suggest the inclusion of similar best practices with the hopes of created greater outcomes for youth.
Research on Informal VS Formal Mentoring
In the research, there is a distinction between a naturally occurring adult-youth relationship (referred to as informal mentoring) and a structured adult-youth relationship where the mentor is assigned or matched (referred to as formal mentoring). There is less research available for informal mentor relationships than there is for formal, but the research indicates that benefits exist for both the mentor and mentee. Research is also available that suggests no effect or negative effects from mentoring, especially if the relationship with the adult fails. Formal mentoring has been better studied in the research and, therefore, more findings are available on this topic. In a review of literature, it was suggested that an emphasis in quality of mentoring relationship and programming has been steadily increasing in the research and a shift in outcome measures is apparent, with most studies measuring general youth development as opposed to reductions in particular deviant behaviors. In another review of literature, 10 studies were analyzed and found a moderate positive effect on mentee grades, reduction of substance use, reduction of some delinquent behaviors, but not with youth self-esteem.
These studies suggest that, although research is conflicting, there is typically an overall positive effect as a result of a mentoring relationship. This positive effect is more likely with the use of established best practices and within the population of youth classified as delinquent or "at risk". Most research agrees, however, that further research is necessary and that research with more rigorous methods would be beneficial to the field.
Approaches to mentoring
One prevalent method is referred to as the "School-Based" approach. The mentor meets with the youth in an academic setting and facilitates school work while acting as a supportive role-model.They may also play games, do crafts or partake in non-academic activities. This approach is practiced by organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters which is located in eleven countries including Ireland, the United States, Israel, and Bulgaria. As of 2005, there was an estimated 870,000 adults mentoring youth in a school-based program throughout The United States alone. Canada has developed an in-school program in which elderly Aboriginal mentors are paired with both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children to raise self-esteem, teach about native cultures, and provide support to youth in school.
"Community Based" is another approach to mentoring. In this setting, a mentor meets youth in the community such as a church, community facility, or by taking the child to community events. Both approaches can be done in a one-on-one or group setting. Individual vs. community based mentoring may be culturally specific, such as in India where youth are less in need of individual attention and thrive in a group setting, according to The International Journal of Social Work.
Individual mentoring, or a one on one setting is where there is one mentor who repeatedly meets with the same mentee for the duration of their program. These partnerships can be found in both community and school-based One on one mentoring is seen in programs such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters in The United States, as well as Mentor Me India in India. Individual mentor relationships or mixed with some group meetings were found to be more effective than solely group mentoring, found in a study in The New Zealand Journal of Psychology.
Small group mentoring can be beneficial in places where there is a shortage of mentors, or youth are able to learn collectively in a group setting. This works with career oriented mentoring, when the focus is to encourage future success of the individual by bringing in successful professionals as mentors. This has found to be a successful approach in The Roma Mentor Project throughout Europe; it is able to build self-confidence, and social skills while also teaching the importance of Romani culture.
Mentoring programs by country
Youth mentoring takes place around the world, and countries take varying approaches to the concept based off values and needs of that country's youth. There are organizations such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters that have locations worldwide, as well as country specific organizations, such as Mentor Me India.
The Romani population is about 1.9% of the total population in Hungary, according to the 2001 census. There are 12 Million Romani across Europe, and they account for one of Europe's most vulnerable populations. Within the Romani population, there is a lack of education amongst youth accompanied by large numbers of illiteracy. Because of this trend, there was the creation of The Roma Mentor Project, which provides successful Romani adults to be role models of Romani youth. The program started in 2006, and by 2011, it spread to four other European countries with 1,400 participants. The program matches professionals in many different fields, such as government officials, professors, musicians, and media figures. These adults meets with groups of youth for two to three hours, twice a month, to influence their future decisions on education and career development. Already the program has found a shift in attitudes toward education and improvement in grades.
Mentoring programs in the south of India have begun to rise in rural settings. Mentoring in India can be found in both a one-to-one setting as well as group settings. Mentor Me India is a specific program within urban India and is a program that executes one-to-one mentoring within the community. These mentorships have a focus on girls for aged 10 to 12 for the pilot phase, providing them female professional mentors. Another mentoring program that is starting in rural India implemented by United States researches as well as Indian community members. The purpose was to help with the impoverished youth who do not have access to the same resources as youth in an urban setting. When creating the program, Indian cultural norms and limited resource access were taken into account. The focus of this mentorship program is to develop leadership, academic achievement, and spiritual development while having a community service portion among the youth. According to The Journal of International Social Work, one-on-one mentorships are not as fitting in rural India as they be elsewhere due to a lack of mentors as well as the desire to building peer relationships.
Starting in the 1990s, after high rates of youth incarceration due to apartheid, non-governmental agencies decided there was need to advocate for the youth. The purpose of these organizations is to have an alternative to the formal justice setting, which kept around 30,000 youth per year out of criminal trial. One of the programs, Diversion into Music Education (DIME), has incorporated a mentor base approach through music appreciation. The program does not require any previous music capabilities and focuses on the student, not on the performance. The program is also located in Tampa, Florida, United States and allows for an intercultural exchange of staff members and video between organizations. The mentor's role in this organization is to help youth set and achieve goals and assist in personal growth of the individual. Results from the program have shown positive outcomes on family relationships.
The largest mentoring program in The United States is Big Brothers Big Sisters, a program for youth from ages 6–18. The organization implements both community-based as well as school-based mentoring, and is typically a one-on-one mentorship. There are also programs that are for specific groups of youth such as The National CARES Mentoring Movement, which was created in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The program provides strong black leaders to empower black youth in America for a better future. At the start of the program, 86 percent of black fourth graders were reading below grade level, and 1,000 black children a day were being arrested. After joining the mentoring movement, 98 percent of participants stayed in school as well as avoided gang activity, and teen pregnancy, while 85 percent of youth in the program did not use drugs. Since starting in 2005, the program has influenced over 125,000 black youths. The mentoring typically takes place in the community in a group setting to create positive relations amongst the youth. In 2002, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences published a major report examining after-school and other community programs designed to foster positive youth development. The report concluded that very few after-school programs “have received the kind of comprehensive experimental evaluation necessary to make a firm recommendation about replicating the program in its entirety across the country.” However, the report singled out mentoring programs modeled after the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program as a rare exception, and recommended its widespread replication.
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