Mentor-mentee relationships in a gender-responsive program for black girls

Brinkman, B. G., Marino, S., & Manning, L. (2018). Relationships are the heart of the work: Mentoring relationships within gender-responsive programs for black girls. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 30(4), 191–213.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: Researchers conducted 20 in-depth interviews with 10 black girls and 10 adult staff members from a gender-responsive program in order to better understand the benefits of and barriers to quality relationships in these programs. These researchers report a large majority of the girls feeling as though their relationships with staff at the agency were generally positive. The two most common themes that were discussed in the interviews were the importance of positive mentoring relationships and the barriers black girls often experience both in building trusting relationships and in life more generally.


Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Research suggests that the well-being of black girls is often neglected in schools and juvenile justice systems. Gender-responsive programs designed to serve black girls can be beneficial if they focus on developing strong relationships between girls and adults. Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 10 black girls and 10 adults at a gender-responsive agency. Staff members and girls discussed the ways mentoring relationships developed at the agency. Themes emerged related to positive relationships (the development of positive relationships, integrity and trustworthiness, perceived support, and role modeling) as well as potential challenges/barriers (challenges to trust, perceived judgment, advice giving, and confidentiality).


Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Our findings support research suggesting that mentoring relationships are important for girls and provide insights about the specific dynamics that are important for mentoring black girls. Mentoring relationships are a key component of gender-responsive interventions, which strive to build community, create a safe environment, and focus on relationships (Covington, 2001). Our data provide insights about how mentoring relationships develop, the characteristics of these relationships that girls and staff members find significant, as well as explore possible barriers that staff may need to navigate to promote the development of mentoring relationships.

Similar to past research (Pryce et al., 2010), our findings suggest that both the girls and staff members perceive that a relational approach is important for building positive mentoring relationships, as most participants highlighted the role of having meaningful conversations as a vital aspect of relationship building. Rhodes (2002) suggested that meaningful conversations play an important role in mentoring relationships. While Deutsch et al. (2012) found that having fun may help forge initial connections, a greater focus on building empathy, trust, and attention to the children’s needs and experiences are more important when building long-term connections.


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