Creating sustainable youth-initiated mentoring relationships in social work

van Dam, L., Heijmans, L., & Stams, G. J. (2021). Youth Initiated Mentoring in Social Work: Sustainable Solution for Youth with Complex Needs? Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Although youth-initiated mentoring (YIM) is an accessible form of mentoring that combines the benefits of formal and informal mentoring, there is still a lack of research that addresses the long-term effects of YIM. 
  • This qualitative study explores several questions regarding the experiences of former YIMs.
    • How does YIM affect mentor-mentee relationship quality?
    • How sustainable are YIM relationships?
    • How were the mentees doing after the mentoring program ended?
    • What are YIMs’ experiences with receiving assistance from social workers?
  • Many of the YIMs kept in touch with their mentees after their treatments officially ended.
  • The threat of being displaced from their homes has been prevented for a majority of the mentees involved. 

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Youth Initiated Mentoring (YIM) is a new approach in child and family services, in which collaboration with natural mentors from within the social network of the young person is central. Young people themselves choose a mentor from within their environment. This mentor is their confidential advisor and he or she stands up for the interests of the young person. In addition, the YIM is a cooperation partner for parents and social workers. Research into the long-term effects is lacking, therefore, in the current study, a total of 24 (former) YIMs were interviewed (14 women, 10 men). The ages of the YIMs range from 23 to 78 years (M = 50, SD = 13.7). On average, the YIMs know the young people for a periode of 9 years and 6 months (SD = 5.1), family members not included. The YIM program were closed 6 months to 4 years ago (M = 2.3, SD = 1.12). The majority of YIMs keep in touch with the young person (75%) and currently most young persons lives at home or in within their community (79%). The YIM approach is a resilient and promising approach in social work, prerequisite that it is valued by parties involved.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The aim of the current research was to investigate the experiences of former YIMs. It looked at the sustainability and quality of the relationship, the long-term effects for youth and the experienced support from the social workers. The experience of the YIMs was generally positive. Especially the feeling of having achieved something and the feeling of having (had) an influence on the young person are mentioned as valuable. This relates to the quality of the relationship: because a YIM takes a different position in the family, different social interactions arise, which can lead to a change in the quality of the relationship (Van Dam et al. 2019a, b). The use of a YIM trajectory created more conflict and tension in some relationships. This is a confirmation of the natural paradox (Van Dam et al. 2019a, b) in the sense that, by formalizing the natural relationship, a negative influence on the relationship can occur. The natural paradox is also partly negated, because a number of YIMs mentioned a positive change in the quality of the relationship with the young person and the majority of YIMs experience no change in the quality of the relationship with the young person. For them, the process was very natural and self-evident. The majority still have good contact with other family members, but a number of trajectories have ended with a negative change in the relationship with other family members, with some YIMs now no longer having contact with certain family members. This means that careful thought has to be given to the choice of the YIM, for example by collaborating with parents during the selection process of a YIM, which is appreciated and empowers them to suggest mentors or vetoing mentors they felt were not a good fit (Spencer et al. 2019).

Most YIMs, i.e. 75%, still had contact with the young person at the end of the trajectory. This percentage corresponds with percentages found above 75% in previous research (Schwartz et al. 2013; Van Dam et al. 2018a, b). Also, as in the study by Schwartz et al. (2013), YIMs indicate that the frequency of contact generally decreases after completion of the trajectory. The other YIMs no longer have contact, but are still open for contact. The causes for ending the informal mentoring relationship as YIM correspond with the causes for ending a formal mentoring relationship (Spencer et al. 2017), namely unforeseen personal circumstances (such as moving house), dissatisfaction or indifference on the part of the young person, dissatisfaction on the part of the mentor, slow extinction of contact because both parties put no effort into it, and complete silence on the part of the mentor. Another similarity between the YIMs and formal mentors is the connection between the quality of the relationship and sustainability. Good relationships between young person and YIM or formal mentor were ended more often due to external causes and weaker relationships were ended more often due to dissatisfaction or slow extinction. The YIMs who indicate that they felt they had achieved nothing with the process generally also have no contact with the young person in the long term.

At the follow-up, a total of 79% are living at home again or with a trusted person from within their community. This is in line with two previous studies, in which a total of 138 young people was included, where about 80–90% of the young people stayed at home, despite an earlier indication for out-of-home placement (Van Dam et al. 2017; Van Dam et al. 2018a, b). Three of the out-of-home placement also meant the end of the YIM trajectory. Although reducing the number of out-of-home placement has priority, YIMs also indicate that a YIM trajectory in which a young person is placed out-of-home did not fail, they state that it is sometimes better for the young person because the situation at home was untenable.

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