Can mentoring help homeless adolescents experience fewer problems with substance abuse?

Bartle-Haring, S., Slesnick, N., Collins, J., Erdem, G., & Buettner, C. (2012). The utility of mentoring homeless Adolescents: A pilot study. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 38(4), 350-358.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Although mentoring programs are attractive to many people, there is evidence that suggests that these kinds of programs have a limited effect on children’s psychosocial functioning.
  • Bartle-Haring et al. (2012) sought to investigate the influence of mentoring homeless adolescents that were concurrently receiving substance abuse treatments, while also examining sociodemographic predictors as a moderator of attendance.
  • Ran a pilot study with a longitudinal design.
  • The ages of the participants ranged from 14 to 20 years; all of them were undergoing substance abuse treatment while in the mentoring program.
  • They concluded that adolescents that have had a past of sexual or physical abuse are more likely to go to mentoring sessions, and that the combination of mentoring sessions and treatments are related to lower problematic repercussions that are often times associated with substance abuse.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Background: Despite the intuitive appeal and popularity of mentoring programs, mentoring has shown only limited success for positively impacting children’s psychosocial functioning. Furthermore, we were not able to identify a study that examined the potential utility of mentoring for homeless adolescents. Objective: The purpose of this pilot study was to examine the impact of mentoring among a group of homeless adolescents who were also receiving substance abuse treatment. Methods: This pilot study examined the impact of mentoring among homeless adolescents (n = 90) between the ages of 14 and 20 years who also received substance abuse treatment. A longitudinal design was used in which adolescents were assessed at baseline, 3 months, and following the completion of treatment at 6 months postbaseline. Results: Findings showed that adolescents with a history of physical or sexual abuse attended more mentoring sessions. Also, mentoring in addition to treatment was associated with a decrease in problem consequences associated with substance use. However, more mentoring with fewer treatment sessions was associated with an increase in internalizing behaviors. Only these two outcomes were associated with mentoring. Conclusions and Scientific Significance: While not providing resounding support for mentoring, this study suggests that examining the mentor/mentee relationship may be a fruitful line of future research given that significant variability among the mentor/mentee pairs was noted for some outcomes of interest.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The results of these analyses suggested that substance abuse frequency and depressive symptoms decreased regardless of the number of treatment and/or mentoring sessions attended. Externalizing behaviors decreased more depending on the number of treatment sessions attended, regardless of mentoring sessions attended. Decreases in the consequences of substance use and internalizing behaviors appeared to be more dependent on the interaction of treatment and mentoring sessions.

In support of mentoring, when considering the interaction of the number of treatment sessions attended and the number of mentoring sessions attended, problem behaviors around substance abuse changed the most when youths with the highest scores at the outset attended the most treatment and mentoring sessions. Youth scores on this assessment also decreased if they attended more treatment sessions or more mentoring sessions and decreased the least if they attended fewer treatment and fewer mentoring sessions.

In opposition to mentoring, when considering the interaction of the number of treatment and mentoring sessions attended, internalizing behaviors changed the most when the youths attended the most treatment sessions and the fewest mentoring sessions. Those youths whose scores remained fairly stable were those who attended fewer treatment sessions and more mentoring sessions.


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