Assessing the impact of family relationships in youth mentoring through ecological lenses

Downey, S. K., Lyons, M. D., & Williams, J. L. (2022). The role of family relationships in youth mentoring: An ecological perspective. Children and Youth Services Review, 106508.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Although family relationships and youth mentoring programs play a role in youth development, it’s unclear how they are related.
  • This study applies an ecological approach to assess if family relationships moderates academic, behavioral, & socio-emotional outcomes in youth mentoring.
  • Family relationships correlated with youth academic plans and fewer delinquent behaviors, regardless of intervention status.
  • Despite these promising findings, results indicate that family relationships didn’t have a distinctive effect on mentees compared to the control group.
  • Programs can refer to the findings to address issues about family involvement in mentoring training and curricula.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Mentoring programs have historically focused on the relationship between the mentor and mentee as the primary means for supporting academic, behavioral, and social-emotional outcomes among youth participating in these programs. However, research also indicates that other significant relationships, like family relationships, are important in promoting positive youth outcomes. The current exploratory study takes an ecological approach by examining family relationships as a potential moderator of youth mentoring outcomes. Participants were adolescent girls who participated in a year-long, gender-specific, school-based mentoring program (n = 69), or served as controls (n = 59). Data were collected from pre- and post-intervention surveys. Multiple regression analyses tested for an interaction between participants’ family relationship characteristics and their intervention status on various social-emotional, academic, and behavioral outcomes. Results indicated that higher levels of family support significantly predicted higher youth academic plans, and lower family deviant beliefs significantly predicted fewer delinquent behaviors; however, the interactions between family and intervention status were not significant. Findings suggest that family relationship characteristics merit attention when seeking to promote youth outcomes. Implications include supporting ecological frameworks for mentoring by refining targets of mentoring interventions to consider the role of family factors.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

This quasi-experimental study utilized an ecological framework of youth development to explore if family relationships were associated with changes in various academic, behavioral, and social-emotional outcomes and if those relationships moderated changes for youth participating in a year-long, gender-specific, school-based mentoring program. While baseline family relationships were associated with a variety of youth outcomes, the results from this study primarily found no family effects for changes in outcomes over the course of the school year, with the exception of a few youth outcomes (i.e., delinquency, academic plans).

Although this study is exploratory, the regression results partially supported our prediction that ecological predictors would be significantly associated with youth outcomes; however, our prediction that family relationships would moderate the treatment effects was not observed. These findings suggest that there are likely more nuances to family processes that are not captured in this data set. Findings show that existing family relationships were associated with some desirable youth outcomes (i.e., delinquency, academic plans) regardless of intervention status. In other words, the family dynamics that a youth started with were associated with changes in youth competencies, while the mentoring intervention was not, however this study did not demonstrate a conclusive pattern of this relationship. These mixed findings about family relationships on youth outcomes are consistent with prior research from mentoring program evaluations (DuBois et al., 2002, DuBois et al., 2011) in addition to other various related fields (Thomas et al., 2017, Williams and Anthony, 2015).

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