20 Lessons about Youth Mentoring Programs

A few general pointers, after discussion with youth mentoring practitioners in Canada and the USA  in 2006,  which might assist those involved in youth mentoring with the ongoing development of programs.

1. Youth mentoring is an awesome experience and every mentoring relationship is unique.

2. Mentoring is hard work and not everyone is suitable for such a relationship.

3. Running an effective youth mentoring program, which follows internationally credible effective practices, costs money. However, it is cheaper and more successful than the cost per capita of supervising young people in detention, juvenile delinquents, young offenders etc.

4. More effort needs to go into training, supervising, supporting and mentoring Program Coordinators, Mentor Coordinators and other staff involved in a youth mentoring program.

5. Federal and State Governments should consider financially supporting youth mentoring programs for an initial three year period. Programs intending to continue beyond this time need to make a concerted effort to obtain more funding from corporate, individual and other potential donors from the day they decide to set up a program. Ideally they should ultimately depend on no more than one-third of their annual budget to come from government funding and the remaining two-thirds from other sources.

6. Program quality is more important than the number of mentor/mentee matches.

7. Most youth mentoring programs involve young people from high risk (‘at risk’) environments, often from single parent homes. The quality of training offered for such programs ie, 3 – 6 hours, does not, according to research, prepare mentors adequately for the mentoring journey. More work needs to be done in this area.

8. Where youth mentoring programs exist, a country should set up a youth mentoring advocacy group which should be responsible for Program Certification to ensure that programs meet internationally credible quality assurance standards. An advocacy group would not run any youth mentoring programs per se, otherwise there will be a clash of interest. The certification process will be a positive, capacity building experience, during which the advocacy group will assist, guide, support, resource and encourage the youth mentoring program to attain internationally credible quality assurance standards.

9. The supervision and ongoing training of volunteer adult mentors requires more work, as far too many mentors feel inadequately supported during the mentoring journey and this could have a negative effect on the mentoring relationship.

10. While after-school programs are invaluable in some communities, programs need to distinguish between mentoring, coaching, youth work and academic tutoring. Paid mentors tend to be more youth workers than mentors. This clarification is important so that genuine youth mentoring programs do not find others seeking funding under the pretence of mentoring.

11. Mentoring is not social work. The major emphasis is on the establishment of a meaningful relationship between a mentor and a mentee. The journey is a developmental one, not a prescriptive one, with an effective connection between the mentor and the mentee more important than completing certain tasks, for example, which might enhance the pulling power of a program to attract funding support.

12. Mentoring is most effective when the young person volunteers to join the program.

13. Not all mentoring relationships work. Two strangers are being brought together. They might not connect. Programs could consider a probationary period of six weeks, during which the mentor and the mentee meet weekly. If the relationship does not continue beyond this point, program staff should set up an effective closure or exit process which affirms both the mentor and the mentee and allows them to enter new mentoring relationships should they wish to do so.

14. The mentee’s parents need to be integrated into the program as best as possible. More work and planning is required in this area by many programs. Sometimes this can be a very difficult hurdle to jump, as is the challenge of encouraging people to appreciate that cross-cultural mentoring relationships work! The beauty of mentoring is that it crosses all cultures.

15. A basic evaluation process eg, regular surveys of mentors, mentees and parents is better than no evaluation. Mentors need to understand the importance and value to a program’s sustainability of completing user-friendly surveys and activity sheets as part of their commitment to a program.

16. Network! Network! Network! Create a web of support around mentees; create effective partnerships between youth mentoring programs, schools, different youth agencies, communities etc.; encourage youth mentoring programs to network with each other, share experiences etc. and keep the focus on young people. Youth mentoring is not a substitute for the necessary work being carried out by other youth agencies.

17. Funding a youth mentoring program is investing in the future of young people. Funders need to be more aware of the long-term effects of mentoring, which are often difficult to measure, and contribute funding support with these thoughts in mind.

18. Mentoring is not about quick-fix solutions, never has been, never will be, never should be. Nor is mentoring about ‘fixing’ families. It is about a one-to-one relationship between a volunteer adult mentor and a young person on a journey to reaching his or her potential.

19. The spirit of mentoring can and should be adopted and promoted in schools, communities and faith groups throughout Australasia. The positive benefits to businesses when their employees become volunteer adult mentors has been well documented by researchers in the youth development field. If undertaken successfully, teachers, for example, will be more effective educators, more respected and valued as influential role models in communities. In addition, there are likely to be fewer discipline issues to deal with eg, bullying, truancy, substance abuse, inappropriate sexual behaviour, abuse of technology, disrespect for authority figures and property etc. because young people will feel cared for, safe and secure and valued as unique individuals each of whom has some positive contribution to make to the creation of a better world.

20. Mentoring must be a FUN experience as often as possible.

(Source: Adapted from the Winston Churchill Report, September 2006: Promoting the Spirit of Mentoring In New Zealand. Author: Robin Cox)