How do contextual factors affect the accessibility to informal mentoring for underrepresented youths?

Gowdy, G., Palmer, M. T., Saastamoinen, M., & Rivera, M. (2022). Using a social work perspective to understand contextual factors impacting access to informal mentorship for under-resourced and minoritized youth. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Informal, non-parental youth mentoring relationships promote a variety of positive youth outcomes.
  • There is a need for more research that examines how contextual factors affect the accessibility of informal mentoring for underrepresented & under-resourced youth.
  • This study used data from the National Survey of Children’s Health to a) explore the presence of informal youth mentors in relation to family resources, neighborhood resources, economic distress, & trauma and b) assess how race & ethnicity impacted them.
  • Findings suggest that race & ethnicity might have a bigger effect on informal youth mentoring accessibility than gender.
  • Black and other non-Hispanic families of color living in safe neighborhoods were associated with increased chances of receiving informal youth mentoring.
  • Results also indicate that race matters more for Black families than their economic status in terms of assessing the odds of their children having informal mentoring. 
  • Applying a social work perspective that prioritizes the person-in-environment perspective and CRT provides insights on who receives mentoring.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Informal mentoring between youth and adults in their existing social networks can help promote positive and equitable outcomes for disadvantaged young people. Yet little published research exists examining contextual factors that may impact access to this type of beneficial relationship for under-resourced and minoritized youth. Using data from the National Survey of Children’s Health (N = 32,883), a logistic regression model was run to examine the presence of an informal mentor in relation to multiple contextual factors: (1) family resources, (2) economic distress, (3) neighborhood resources, and (4) trauma. Four supplemental logistic regression models then were run testing the same relationship between informal mentorship and the identified contextual factors by race/ethnicity group. Results indicate that contextual factors matter in determining which youth have access to informal mentorship. In terms of demographic factors, there also is an indication that race/ethnicity may be more impactful than gender in determining which youth have access to informal mentorship. Several findings in the sub-sample analysis highlight the unique experiences of Black families versus families of other race/ethnicity minorities related to informal mentoring. By foregrounding a person-in-environment perspective in Critical Race Theory, the present study demonstrates how the social work perspective can be used to analyze various contextual factors of marginalization, while maintaining a focused analysis on the presence of systemic racial-inequities. In addition to these theoretical implications, identifying contextual barriers has important implications for practitioners and researchers creating interventions to expand access to informal mentoring relationships for disadvantaged youth.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Generally, this study identified several important contextual factors at play in determining which young people have access to informal mentorship and which do not. One previous study published pseudo r-squared statistics associated with predictors of informal mentorship, noting that no pseudo r-square was over 0.031 (Gowdy et al., 2019). This indicates a lack of overall model fit, meaning that the variables included in the model, most of which measured individual-level experiences such as bullying and social experiences, do not do a good job of explaining much variation in who reports an informal mentor and who does not. Our model, which included more environmental factors like neighborhood resources and economic distress, has pseudo r-squared statistics ranging from 0.067 to 0.103, doubling the overall model fit from previous studies. This gain in model fit is a good indication that environmental factors matter in determining which youth have access to informal mentorship, supporting the person-in-environment perspective utilized here. Although not an exact match, all four factors utilized in the formal person-in-environment classification system (i.e., social functioning, environmental problems, mental health, and physical health) are touched on in some way by the four categories of variables examined in this study (i.e., family resources, economic distress, neighborhood resources, and trauma) (Hutchison, 2017).

A surprising finding was that families who eat meals together four to six times a week were consistently more likely to report a mentor for their child than those who ate together every night of the week. This is likely a function of what the family is doing together on the nights they do not eat meals together, as previous studies have shown that extra-curriculars, community groups, and participation in religious services all increase the likelihood of mentorship (see Thompson & Greeson, 2017; Schwartz et al., 2013). In lieu of eating together every night, families are connecting to a larger pool of potential informal mentors through these mechanisms and are thus likelier to report mentorship.

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