Making the college transition: New study explores mentoring among foster youth
Gowdy, G., & Hogan, S. (2020). Informal mentoring among foster youth entering higher education. Children and Youth Services Review, 105716. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.105716
Summarized by Ariel Ervin
Notes of Interest:
- This study explores what kinds of informal mentors foster youth preparing to enter a four-year university have access to, as well as how this affects the support foster children receive.
- Results show that current and former foster care youth have access to the same types of mentors that other youths have access to.
- Core mentors, typically extended family members, provide practical support while capital mentors, typically from outside the youth’s immediate social circle, provide bridging capital and good advice.
- The findings also indicate that there were no notable differences between mentoring type and emotional support or youth-reported closeness to their mentors.
- Emotional support can be more pervasive among the vulnerable youth populations within mentoring relationships in comparison to the general population.
- Utilizing mentoring to promote emotional support can help make support and connections more accessible to marginalized youths.
- Mentoring, as a mechanism for emotional support, could be used to fill gaps in the lives of marginalized youth populations lacking socio-emotional support or connections.
Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)
Informal mentoring, a naturally-occurring caring relationship with a non-parental adult, has been shown to promote positive outcomes for young people, including youth transitioning out of the foster care system. Although we often talk about mentoring as one homogenous experience, recent research has demonstrated there are important variations in who mentors are and what supports they offer. Using survey data provided on youths’ social networks, this study identified 378 informal mentoring relationships provided to 113 former and current foster youth preparing to enter a four-year university. Cluster analysis identified two primary types of mentoring relationships in accordance with previous literature: core and capital mentoring. Following the cluster analysis, type of mentoring relationship was examined across various types of support (instrumental, informational, and emotional support). Findings indicated core mentoring relationships were more predominantly associated with instrumental support, while capital mentoring related more closely with informational support. There were no significant differences between mentoring type and emotional support or youth-rated closeness to mentor. The implications for facilitating socio-emotional support for foster youth are discussed.
Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)
Our study generally found that current and former foster care youth have access to the same types of mentors that other youth have access to. Core mentors, typically extended family members, provide practical support (e.g., food, transportation) while capital mentors, typically from outside the youth’s immediate social circle, provide bridging capital and good advice. Notably distinct from previous literature is the fact that both types of mentors were likely to provide emotional support.
5.1. Relationship characteristics
Many findings presented here reaffirm previous work on the subject. The fact that higher levels of education are associated with capital mentoring aligns with Liao and Sanchez’s (2016) work, which found that the higher level of education a mentor has, the more likely they engage in a growth-oriented mentoring relationship. Similarly, as in previous research, the age and gender of the young person and mentor did not significantly predict the type of mentoring relationship (Hurd and Sellers, 2013, Liao and Sanchez, 2016). Our study found that more women were in core mentoring relationships than capital ones, echoing previous work from Liao and Sanchez (2016), suggesting that women are more likely to have closer and emotionally supportive mentoring relationships. Finally, our finding that same-ethnicity matches are more likely to be core relationships as opposed to capital relationships is squarely in line with Hurd and Sellers (2013), who found that closer relationships tend to also be made up of a mentor and mentee of the same ethnic status.
Among the associations between relationship characteristics and mentoring type (core versus capital), a notable finding is that there is no difference in mentoring type on how close the youth feels to their mentor. While this is incongruent with previous literature on informal mentoring, this may be explained by the fact that these young people are aging out of the foster care system and generally feel closer to their mentors, no matter the type. In one study, only 32.4% of general young people rated their capital mentors as “somewhat” or “very close,” in comparison to 71.43% of former foster youth in our study (Author, 2019). There have also been previous qualitative studies that have described relationships between mentors and young people aging out of foster care as marked by strong feelings of closeness (see Spencer et al., 2018). These feelings of closeness may be driven by the mentor’s support during the aging out process or by the mentor providing a positive relationship where there may be a dearth of other positive relationships. These high feelings of closeness with capital mentors may also represent a bias in our sample: that our sample is made of college-bound youth who aged out of foster care, who may have relied on these capital mentors to accomplish something many youth aging out of foster care do not. Our current study posits that former foster youth develop close bonds to their mentors across types, and thus there is no difference between types regarding how close the youth feels to their mentor.
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