FORUM: How will the new report on the “mentoring gap” help your efforts?

mentoringeffectEarlier this month, MENTOR released The Mentoring Effect: Young People’s Perspectives on the Outcomes and Availability of Mentoring (pdf file), a major contribution to our understanding of just how much of an impact mentors are having on the lives of America’s young people. You can read more about the report and its findings on the MENTOR website, but I wanted to take a minute here to share some quick thoughts and find out what our Chronicle readers have to say about this major new resource.

At first glance, this report is valuable in that it gives us a much more recent and reliable estimate of the number of youth who are, and are not, receiving the support of a mentor. This information alone can be valuable for informing policymakers, funders, and other stakeholders. Even potential volunteers might be motivated at hearing just how many youth grow up not having a mentor (one in three, sadly, according to the report).

But going beyond the fresh look at the mentoring “gap,” there were a few other things that jumped out to me:

  • The reach of formal mentoring programs is still pretty limited compared to the need. If the sample used in this study is accurate, only about 15% of the 46 million young people ages 8-18 get their mentoring through a formal, structured program. That’s compared to the 50% of the youth who reported getting mentoring through an informal or “natural” mentoring relationship. This illustrates that, in spite of all of the efforts to expand our field over the years, we still have a ways to go to be operating “at scale” compared to the need. It also begs to question of how we can expand mentoring further when the bulk of that mentoring is unlikely to come from formal programs. Can we truly bring mentoring to scale without scaling mentoring programs?
  • The good news about the prevalence of informal mentoring is that the youth surveyed indicated that it was just as powerful and valuable as structured, programmatic mentoring. Informal mentoring seemed to have less emphasis on school and academics, which is understandable given that it’s not taking place in an educational or programmatic setting. But this survey confirms that regardless of where it originates, young people find great value in having a mentor.
  • The report also contains some good news about our field’s efforts to target and serve youth with multiple risk factors. Those youth were much more likely to be getting their mentoring through a formal program, which is critical given that an increase in risk factors makes it less likely these youth will find informal mentors. I think this confirms that our field should be making strong efforts to direct services towards those who are least likely to find mentors in their everyday lives.
  • Along those same lines, I was also happy that the report mentioned early warning systems, especially those being implemented by schools and districts to identify students at risk of academic failure or dropping out. These early warning systems are becoming increasingly sophisticated in determining which youth need extra support and mentoring programs are well positioned to meet some of these student needs. I wish that the section addressing this had provided more detail about exactly how mentoring programs can become directly involved in early warning system work.
  • Which brings me to my one disappointment with the survey and report: I wish we would have understood a bit more about the youth surveyed, their needs, and the other services they receive. There is a recognition in the report that formal mentoring should be infused into other services or work alongside other “wraparound” supports. But based on this survey, it’s unclear what role mentoring would fill because the global needs of these youth are not articulated. Just how badly did the unmentored youth need a mentor, compared to some other kind of intervention? Perhaps some of these unmentored youth remain unmentored because they have other needs that are more pressing or that prevent them from engaging a mentor in a meaningful way. If the youth in the mentoring “gap” are struggling with homelessness, severe mental health issues, substance abuse, hunger and malnutrition, and other serious issues, we may need to provide them with some other interventions and clinical support before focusing on the missing mentoring piece. In some ways, the lack of information about the youth’s global needs makes it hard to determine just how big a problem that gap number is in the first place.

But regardless of its limitations, this report is an important and valuable resource for the mentoring field. The staff of the Chronicle is curious to know what you think about the report!

  • How will The Mentoring Effect influence your work? How will you use this information?
  • What data was most compelling to you?
  • What information did you feel was missing? What was confusing?
  • How do you think your stakeholders will feel about this report?

So let’s discuss this important new report… We look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below!