Meltzer, A., & Saunders, I. (2020). Cultivating supportive communities for young people – Mentor pathways into and following a youth mentoring program. Children and Youth Services Review, 110, 104815. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.104815
Summarized by Ariel Ervin
Notes of Interest:
- Although many formal youth mentoring programs are helping young people access trusted adult mentoring figures, there is still a lack of research on the capacity programs have to grow skill and community-building, to better equip adults to support young people
- This current study explores how formal mentoring programs can create provide trustworthy adult figures for young people by analyzing how mentors applied mentoring skills that they have learned from their program to support their young mentees
- Findings indicate that while there are some limitations, many adult participants thought that their program helped them better support their mentees, including young people outside their programs (i.e. their families, communities, & their workplaces).
- Results suggest that youth mentoring programs can potentially be beneficial at a community level
Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)
Having a trusted adult in one’s life can be a key support to young people in making and managing the transitions of young adulthood, however not all young people have access to such an adult. Formal youth mentoring programs aim to fill this gap for individual young people, but there is less understanding of the capacity of such programs to contribute to community-building and skill-building, so that there are more adults with the skills and sensibilities to support young people generally and be trusted adults for them, wherever they come across them in their communities.
Drawing on a qualitative study of 15 mentors in an Australian youth mentoring program for high school students, this paper therefore examines mentors’ perceptions of the capacity of the program to help cultivate supportive communities for young people, beyond those specifically mentored. It does this by examining how the mentors expected or anticipated applying the mentoring skills they learnt through the program to the support of other young people in the future. The findings show that, with some limits, mentors perceived that the program built their capacity to better support young people in the future, including young people beyond the program participants, such as those in their families, personal communities, workplaces and other volunteering contexts. These findings highlight that beyond contributing to youth support at an individual-level, youth mentoring programs may also hold some benefits at a group- or community-level, at least from the perspective of mentors. Implications for youth mentoring research, program delivery and funding are discussed.
Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)
The findings highlight that many (but not all) of the mentors in this research had some prior experience of supporting young people – sometimes through a previous trusted adult role or other volunteer/charity or professional roles with children, young people or community services. Notably however, despite their prior experience, many of the mentors in the research perceived that being part of the mentoring program still built their capacity to better support young people in the future. Through formal training and practicing mentoring over an extended period, the mentors felt that they improved their communication skills and refined their approach to listening and emotional support. They thereby emerged from the mentoring program with a better sense of being able to support young people across their families, personal communities, workplaces and other volunteering contexts. Many of the mentors in the research reflected on how they expected or anticipated applying their new mentoring skills in these other contexts in the future; a smaller number of others discussed examples of how they had already done so. Some also acknowledged the limits of their experience. They felt there was more for them to learn regarding supporting young people with a range of more serious socio-demographic issues, such as mental illness, domestic violence, abuse or neglect, “dysfunctional families” and substance abuse. Nevertheless, better insight into the limits of their experience was still helpful for the mentors. In this respect, while there were some limits, the experience of the mentoring program appeared to build the self-perceived capacity of the mentors in this research to support young people beyond the program itself. As such, the findings here suggest that the mentoring program in this research may contribute to building a more supportive community for young people, at least from the perspective of mentors.
The implication of these findings is that beyond contributing to youth support at the level of one individual young person, from the perspective of mentors at least some formal mentoring programs may also hold benefits at a group- or community-level. While mentors work most closely with one young person (or a small number if they repeat the program), the finding that they anticipate or expect that their skills may be transferable in the future means that engagement as a mentor may help to extend the number of adults with the skills and sensibilities to support young people generally, wherever they come across them in their communities. The more of such adults young people have available, the more support options they have and the more supportive their communities can be as a whole. At a group- or community-level, young people may therefore benefit indirectly from the existence of mentoring programs in their community, even if they are not a direct participant. While the venues in which mentors anticipated supporting young people in the future – their families, communities, workplaces and other volunteering roles – were related to areas where some had already supported young people prior to their role in the mentoring program, importantly, following the program many appeared to feel more confident and prepared to take up further youth support roles in these areas in the future.
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