Good news!: The “Elements” lead to effective practice

by Jean Rhodes

If you haven’t been using MENTOR’s Elements of Effective Practice (EEPM) you’re missing a golden opportunity to improve relationship length and strength. Of course, many mentoring practitioners know the EEPM well—in fact some have even witnessed its evolution from a somewhat unwieldy grab bag of ideas to a more tightly stipulated set of safety and evidence-informed standards and benchmarks. This shift toward evidence occurred with the release of the 3rd edition of the Elements in 2009, which relied more heavily on the input of a research and practice experts and less on consensus of large committees. A recent fourth edition updated the content.

The Elements are the field’s the most authoritative set of practices for designing effective mentoring programs. They include six core Standards, which map onto the life cycle of a mentoring relationship and focus on program practices that support the development and maintenance of effective mentoring relationships including

  • recruitment
  • screening
  • training
  • matching
  • monitoring and support
  • closure

The 48  Benchmarks in the 4th edition (23 in the 3rd edition) specify the practices that mentoring programs need to follow to meet each of these six the standards. The EEPM also contains Enhancements, which are promising practices suggested and informed primarily by well-functioning mentoring programs.

Now, a new study supports shows that adherence to the EEPM can lead to more effective practice. In particular, my colleagues Janis Kupersmidt, Katy Stump, Rebecca Stelter and I drew on archival data from 45 Big Brothers Big Sisters community-based programs across 28 sates, tracking program data through 2013. Program practices were assessed using a shortened, 31-item version of the Elements Quality Improvement Process (EQUIP) program self-assessment questionnaire (Kupersmidt, Stelter, & Rhodes, 2011). Mentoring staff reported on whether or not their programs were implementing the benchmark practices that composed each standard.

We found that greater adherence to the benchmarks and standards led to the development and maintenance of longer term matches. These findings, which are consistent with those reported in other practice literatures (e.g., juvenile justice, home visiting), provide encouraging (though not experimental) evidence that following the EEPM can enhance program length and strength. And, since relationship quality and longevity are the active ingredients of effective mentoring programs, it appears that adherence to the EEPM can lead to stronger effects. The results of this study also point to the importance of training for achieving these longer matches. In fact, training was the only EEPM standard that was independently associated with match length–the more training that mentors received the better. This finding is consistent with a related study in which we found that mentors who completed a web-based training program that included all of the topics required in the EEPM had greater knowledge, better understanding of the roles they should and should not play, and felt more prepared to be a mentor than mentors who only received training-as-usual by their mentoring programs (Kupersmidt, Stelter, Rhodes, & Stump, in press). Other studies have also found that pre-match mentor training predicts mentors’ relationship satisfaction (Martin & Sifers, 2012) and commitment (McQuillin, Straight, & Saeki, 2015).

Thus, adequate mentor preparation, particularly around the EEPM, may be the key tool for promoting both mentor satisfaction and longevity in matches. As we conclude, “Adherence to evidence-based benchmark practices has the potential of creating more satisfying, longer lasting, and effective mentoring relationships. Universal adoption of the EEPM compendium of safety and evidence-based practices will represent a paradigm shift from simply relying on practice wisdom to incorporating science into infrastructure, operations, and management of mentoring programs with the potential of profound impact on the development of millions of youth.”

Download the EEPM