New study shows how enhanced mentoring practices affect children of incarcerated parents.

Stelter, R. L., Stump, K. N., Rhodes, J. E., & Kupersmidt, J. B. (2023). A randomized controlled trial of enhanced mentoring program practices for children of incarcerated caregivers: Assessing impacts on youth and match outcomes. Journal of Community Psychology.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Parental incarceration is an adverse childhood experience that often leads to many consequences (such as stigmatization, family instability, stress, etc.) and promotes negative youth outcomes.
  • Mentoring can provide additional non-parental support for children of incarcerated parents (COIP) to promote positive youth outcomes.
  • There’s a need for program enhancements to strengthen their capacity to serve COIP.
  • This study assessed the practices of an enhanced mentoring program that serves COIP and integrates the positive youth development (PYD) framework*.
  • The mentees’ intentions and engagement with substance use decreased in the enhanced mentoring group compared to mentees in the business-as-usual (BAU) group.
    • They also experienced a reduction in their internalizing problems (e.g., loneliness and depression) and an improvement in their positive cognition (e.g., growth mindset, goal orientation, and life satisfaction) compared to the BAU mentees.
  • However, the enhanced mentoring program didn’t affect relationship quality; the matches in this group were shorter than the ones in the BAU group.
  • The practices of the enhanced mentoring group had a notably more positive effect on youth outcomes than similar enhanced youth programs.
  • Since PYD is not a universal approach in youth programs, it will take a deliberate effort to incorporate it into their practices.
  • Because findings indicate the positive effects of program enhancements slightly recede when the enhancements stop, it is essential to sustain a PYD approach throughout the mentoring relationship.
  • Mentoring programs for COIP also need to account for the broader environments that affect youths – this includes environments COIP will be in after the programs end if they want to keep promoting the benefits of their programs.
  • Future studies on this subject need to evaluate specific mentoring practices for COIP to understand which ones have unique effects.

* = The PYD framework highlights the importance of developing protective factors, bolstering assets, and reducing risks among youths. 

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Parental incarceration is an adverse childhood experience that is associated with heightened risk for negative outcomes in youth. Mentoring programs seek to mitigate this risk by providing children of incarcerated parents (COIP) with a supportive relationship that fosters positive outcomes. The current study presents findings from a longitudinal evaluation of enhanced mentoring program practices designed for supporting COIP. One thousand three hundred and thirty-four COIP mentees, their parents or guardians, and their mentors were randomly assigned to receive either enhanced or business as usual (BAU) mentoring. Mentees who received enhanced mentoring demonstrated improved positive self-cognitions, and reduced internalizing behavior problems, intentions to use substances, and substance use, compared with youth who received BAU mentoring. The enhancements had no impact on the quality of mentoring relationships and the enhanced matches had shorter mentoring relationships compared with BAU matches. This evaluation demonstrates that the enhanced mentoring program practices for COIP had significant, positive impacts on outcomes for this special population of youth and suggests that enhanced practices tailored to COIP should be implemented throughout the duration of the mentoring relationship to be most effective.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

As rates of incarceration have grown in the United States, mentoring programs have increasingly endeavored to serve COIP. Previous research documents some promising, but modest, impacts of mentoring on child outcomes (Hagler et al., 2019). Youth mentoring programs, in general, have been somewhat stymied by low to moderate effect sizes (DuBois et al., 2011; Raposa et al., 2019) and researchers and practitioners have been in search of practices and approaches that help to improve the impact of mentoring to produce stronger effects on youth outcomes.

Results from the main outcome analyses that compared youth outcomes for the Enhancement and BAU conditions showed that youth who received enhanced mentoring had more positive self-cognitions, fewer internalizing behavior problems, lower intentions to use substances, and lower substance use after 12 months of experiencing enhanced mentoring. Despite the positive effects of the Enhancements on mentee outcomes, matches in the Enhancement condition were generally shorter than matches in the BAU condition. These findings will be discussed in more detail below.

Findings from this evaluation that the enhanced mentoring program practices successfully impacted youth outcomes contrast with other projects that have similarly tried to enhance mentoring program practices. For example, one project involving Big Brothers Big Sisters of America mentoring programs trained mentors to adopt a PYD approach by promoting a growth mindset, helping mentees identify and pursue their interests, and setting goals, but these enhanced practices did not produce any impact on youth outcomes when comparing youth who received enhanced mentoring and standard mentoring (DuBois & Keller, 2017). Another recent randomized controlled trial supported mentoring programs in developing mentor training and support practices designed to enhance the mentor serving as an advocate for their mentee, but also did not find any impact of these enhanced practices on mentee outcomes (Jarjoura et al., 2018). In this study, the lack of impact may be due, in part, to the more diffuse development and implementation of the enhanced practices because the participating mentoring programs developed and implemented their own set of mentor advocacy practices rather than all participating programs implementing the same set of practices, contrary to the current study, in which all programs implemented the same set of PYD practices.

To access this article, click here.