Do program practices matter for mentors? New study has answers

Keller, T. E., Drew, A. L., Herrera, C., Clark-Shim, H., & Spencer, R. (2023). Do program practices matter for mentors?: How implementation of empirically supported program practices is associated with youth mentoring relationship quality. Journal of Community Psychology.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • The quality and nature of mentor-mentee relationships have an influential impact on youth-related outcomes.
    • The needs, traits, and personalities of the mentees & their mentors affect the development of mentoring relationships.
  • Mentoring programs aim to promote healthy youth development through positive, supportive relationships. Their program practices play a vital role in this.
  • This journal article utilized data from a multi-program study to evaluate how implementing recommended mentoring program practices correlate with relationship quality.
    • It also assessed whether the mentor-staff working alliance mediates this.
  • Findings suggest that higher exposure to program practices correlates with commitment, better mentoring relationship satisfaction ratings, and more positive mentoring interactions.
    • Higher exposure to program practices also led to a stronger mentor-staff working alliance, which also correlates to higher relationship quality.
  • The mentor-staff working alliance can partially or fully mediate with these associations.
  • Staff-reported practices predicted commitment and mentoring relationship satisfaction without mediation from the mentor-staff working alliance.
  • Program practices help strengthen youth mentorships and bolster the promotion of healthy youth development.
  • Mentoring programs need to pay attention to their staff members’ training, qualifications, retention, and compensation.
  • They also need to highlight the importance of having a positive working alliance between staff members and mentors.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

This study investigates how the implementation of program-level practices by formal youth mentoring programs is associated with the quality of youth mentoring relationships as contexts for youth development and also examines whether this connection is mediated by the mentor-staff working alliance. Using data from mentors (n = 542) participating in multiple programs (n = 55), multilevel path models examined hypothesized direct and mediated effects. Parallel analyses were conducted with assessments of program practices from staff (n = 219). Greater exposure to program practices was associated with higher ratings of mentoring relationship satisfaction, commitment, and security and lower mentor-youth relationship negativity. The mentor-staff working alliance either partially or fully mediated these associations. Staff-reported practices predicted mentoring relationship satisfaction and commitment without mediation by the working alliance. This study suggests program practices contribute to stronger youth mentoring relationships. The findings also highlight the mentor-staff working alliance in supporting the development of positive mentoring relationships.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Using data from a large multi-program study, the current analysis examined how the implementation of multiple recommended mentoring program practices was associated with youth mentoring relationship quality, specifically testing the hypothesis that the mentor-staff working alliance would mediate this anticipated association. Mentors who reported experiencing greater exposure to EEPM program practices also rated their mentoring relationships more positively on multiple indicators. The measurement of program practices involved the aggregation of multiple practices relevant for the preparation and support of participants who were in active matches. Associations between mentor-reported program practices and specific mentoring relationship quality measures were either partially or fully mediated by the strength of the mentor-staff working alliance. However, the pattern of findings was different for assessments of program-level practices derived from staff surveys. The cross-reporter, cross-level analyses confirmed associations between program practices and two indicators of relationship quality, reflecting mentor satisfaction and commitment, but no associations were found with relationship quality measures focusing on security and negativity in interactions between the mentor and mentee. In addition, mentor perceptions of the working alliance were only modestly associated with staff-reported program practices and did not act as a mediator to mentor relationship satisfaction or commitment.

The direct effects observed from the level of implementation across multiple EEPM program practices to the ratings of mentoring relationship quality align with previous research highlighting the importance of meeting EEPM standards in supporting mentoring relationships (Kupersmidt, Stump, et al., 2017; Stelter et al., 2018). These prior studies found the extent to which a broad range of EEPM practices were implemented across different Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies predicted relationship duration obtained through agency records. The current study found that similarly assessed program-level implementation of multiple practices reported by staff was linked to mentors’ ratings of relationship satisfaction and commitment, which likely contribute to match longevity (Gettings & Wilson, 2014). Likewise, the current findings are consistent with other research identifying the connection between specific program practices (e.g., matching, training, support) and match duration (McQuillin & Lyons, 2021; Raposa, Rhodes, et al., 2019) and between mentor satisfaction and persistence (Martin and Sifers, 2012; McQuillin et al., 2015). The current study bolsters this growing evidence by testing, across a large sample of programs, how a broad spectrum of EEPM practices are associated with several indicators of relationship quality from the mentor’s perspective.

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