The length of mentoring relationships is one of the most important indicators of positive change in youth. In analyses of data from random assignment studies of both school and community mentoring programs, my colleagues and I have found that effects on youth outcomes grow stronger as relationships persist for longer periods of time. There is even evidence that youth in matches that close prematurely show declines in functioning relative to controls (and that rematching is not necessarily the antidote). Other investigations also have highlighted the importance of match length and consistency, as well as the negative consequences of early terminations. Indeed, because the central component of mentoring is the formation of close relationships, terminations, disruptions, and re-matches can touch on vulnerabilities in ways that less personal interventions do not. All too often, relationship terminations are abrupt and unexplained, leaving youth feeling hurt and confused (Spencer, 2006). Many adolescents in mentoring programs come from single-parent homes and may have already sustained the loss of regular contact with their nonresidential parent. Such youth may feel particularly vulnerable to, and responsible for, problems in subsequent adult relationships. Irrespective of their relationship histories, all youth may show certain vulnerabilities to early terminations. Adolescence is a life stage during which issues of acceptance and rejection are especially salient. Given the stakes, Drs. Janis Kupermidt, Katie Stump, Rebecca Stelter and I recently decided to study the program, mentor, and mentee characteristics that predicted premature match closure. We drew on a large national database of mentoring programs (MentorPRO) consisting of a treasure trove of program, match and youth risk information The overall prevalence of premature match closure (defined differently for each program) was 38% for this dataset, though it varied widely depending on the mentor and mentee characteristics.
Highlights–(see full list on Table 2)
- Females were more likely to have early match closure than males
- Asian mentors were more likely to have early match closure than White mentors.
- Young adults aged from 18-24 might be more likely to experience early match termination than older mentors.
- Elementary school aged children were much less likely to experience early termination as opposed to middle- and high-school aged children.
Indicators of risk
- criminality (gang involvement or risk of becoming involved, juvenile delinquency, or court involvement) was highly predictive of early match closure.
- being a youth in foster care
- being an immigrant,
- having a parent in prison.
- using substances
- being a teen mother
- see article for others….
We also studied cumulative (combined) risk and found that family risk, risky health behaviors, and mentee age were the strongest significant predictors of early match closure. The most important risk categories associated with premature closure was engaging in risky health behaviors. Mentors may feel overwhelmed by mentoring a youth who engages in risky behaviors, and more seasoned or trained volunteers may be better able to cope with the challenges posed by youth risk. Indeed, in a related study, Liz Raposa and I found that elevated environmental stress at a youth’s home and/or school predicted shorter match duration, and elevated rates of youth behavioral problems, such as poor academic performance or misconduct, predicted greater youth dissatisfaction and less positive mentor perceptions of relationship quality. However, mentors with greater self-efficacy and more previous involvement with youth in their communities were able to buffer the negative effects of environmental stress on match duration. Similarly, mentors’ previous involvement with youth buffered the negative effects of youth behavioral problems on mentor perceptions of relationship quality.
Taken together, these studies highlights the need for pre-match training and ongoing support to support volunteers in their work with in more challenging circumstances.