New research studies reasons for early termination of mentoring relationships

travel-1756150_1280Spencer, R., Basualdo-Delmonico, A., Walsh, J., & Drew, A. (2014). Breaking up is hard to do: A qualitative interview study of how and why youth mentoring relationships end. Youth & Society, 1-23.

Summarized by Sam Burton




Mentoring programs aim to create lasting and meaningful relationships between mentors and youth. However, a significant proportion of formal mentoring relationships end before the initial time commitment is met. Despite mentoring relationships often terminating early, there is a lack of research conducted on these relationship endings. Therefore, we know little about how and why these relationships end, and what can be done to prevent early relationship termination. Spencer, Basualdo-Delmonico, Walsh, and Drew (2014) address this gap in the research through interviews with 48 pairs of mentors and youth, as well as the youths’ parents or guardians, whose relationships terminated early. They investigate participants’ perceptions and understandings of how and why the relationships ended, as well as the impact of these endings.



All mentor-youth pairs were part of a Big Brother Big Sisters program. When their match had ended, researchers conducted interviews – one with the mentor and one with the youth and their parents or guardians. Topics covered included how and why the relationship ended, the agency’s role in the process, how participants experienced the ending, and perceptions of the nature and quality of the mentoring relationship. Researchers coded the interviews into categories of responses.



  • Five reasons for mentoring relationships ending were identified: (1) changes in life circumstances, (2) mentor dissatisfaction, (3) youth dissatisfaction, (4) gradual dissolution, and (5) mentor abandonment.
  • Three types of procedural endings for the mentoring relationships were identified: (1) planned and completed formal ending between mentor and youth, (2) planned but not completed formal ending, and (3) agency ended termination after there had been no communication between mentor and youth for some time.
  • Most strong relationships ended because of unforeseen changes in life circumstances and nearly all of these relationships had a planned and completed formal ending.
  • Weaker relationships ended for a wider variety of reasons and were less likely to have endings that involved direct communication between mentors and youth.
  • Youth expressed disappointment when the match did not meet their initial expectations and sadness and anger when they did not have an opportunity to say goodbye to their mentor.



This study provides insight into why and how mentoring relationships end before intended. It demonstrates the tendency for stronger relationships to end on better terms, with a formal opportunity for youth and mentors to say goodbye. It also demonstrates the difficulties experienced by youth who are not given the opportunity to say goodbye to their mentors, even when their mentoring relationship was not particularly strong. Early relationship termination can negatively impact youth, and understanding these impacts and why they occur is important in order to better plan for these relationship endings.

Almost two thirds of the relationships in this study ended for a potentially preventable reason. Because of this, mentoring programs may want to increase their focus on reducing early relationship terminations. Additionally, in those cases when termination is inevitable, promoting more favorable closures and more direct communication between mentors and youth could reduce dissatisfaction and disappointment. Including information on match termination during prematch training and increasing support from program staff during the match may facilitate longer matches and more positive match closure experiences. While much of the available mentoring research has focused on the characteristics that make a match endure, Spencer et al. demonstrate just how important it is to investigate matches that terminate early.


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