Mentoring Youth from High Risk Environments

A broad outline summary of research regarding mentoring young people with multiple risk factors, presented by the EMT Group for the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, June 2003.

Most of my research in this field echoes the thoughts in this summary.

Cautions about mentoring

  • Poorly implemented programs have high potential to have an adverse affect on high risk young people, often due to the tendency for matches involving these young people to terminate early (DuBois, 2002).
  • Mentees are most likely to terminate early if they are referred for psychology testing, remedial education, are survivors of abuse, or are minority status. Young people facing multiple risk factors were more likely to terminate early and therefore more likely to suffer damage from having been mentored (Rhodes).
  • Therefore, extreme caution should be used in serving low functioning young people facing high risk factors. (Rhodes; Jakeilek et al., 2002)

Recommended Program Practices

  • Programs that showed highly positive results for high risk young people had a high screening threshold for mentees; higher functioning young people facing high risk did best in mentor programs.
  • Strong adherence to guidelines for designing and implementing mentor programs becomes especially critical when serving high risk young people, particularly in regard to screening, training and supervision processes.
  • In-depth assessment of relationship and contextual factors in the evaluation of programs is also highly critical in serving high risk young people.
  • Proper closure of matches when serving high risk young people is also crucial to avoiding damage to mentees and promoting positive outcomes.
  • Natural mentors were found to be of benefit to young people, programs may want to consider designing their program to accommodate natural matches in addition to “arranged” ones (Rhodes; Beier et al 2003).

Summation of Key Research Findings

  • Mentoring actually has MORE capacity for damage than benefits: however, benefits are significant and worthwhile when successful.
  • Early termination of relationships is one main cause of adverse reactions to mentoring. Young people facing high risk are far more likely to terminate matches early than young people in lower risk categories. This means that programs serving young people facing high risk need to focus heavily on strong planning and program design that offers thorough support to mentors and mentees.
  • Natural mentors can be just as important and effective with young people in need as arranged mentors.

Key points to remember if launching a new program for young people from a High Risk environment:

  • Have a strict and thorough screening process in place.
  • Produce a high quality of mentor training.
  • Have an effective staffing policy to ensure the mentoring program runs smoothly and efficiently.
  • Ensure there is strong support, supervision and ongoing training for mentors as this is vital for the program’s success.
  • Teamwork and strong support, as well as accountability factors built in to the roles of the Mentor Coordinator and program staff, the main links with mentors.
  • Have a robust evaluation process wherever possible.

Mentoring is mostly about small victories and subtle changes.

Marc Freedman