Prevention Corner: My visit to the 2013 Mentoring Summit (Part 1)

tim_cavell2Three weeks ago I attended the National Mentoring Summit in Washington, DC. It was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the excellent work being done to promote the health and well-being of our nations’ youth!

I had a chance share some the work done last year by my research team. Much of it was in collaboration with BBBS agencies in Canada. We truly enjoyed the partnership with our neighbors from the North and are grateful to Karen Shaver, Liz O’Neil, and Tracy Lockhart for their support.

We were involved in two projects and both involved teen mentoring programs. This is important work because having high school (HS) students mentor young children has recently been called into question, especially by BBBS agencies here in the states.

Those doubts were due in large part to disappointing results from the 2007 SBM Impact Study conducted by Carla Herrera and colleagues. Although many gains were found for mentored youth after one semester (spring), most were lost after the second semester (fall), due in large measure to many Bigs ending the match at the end of the school year. The fact that nearly half of the Bigs in this study were HS students was a real concern and this concern was only heightened when it was learned that outcomes for their Littles were far less positive than Littles matched with adult Bigs.

In fairness to the HS Bigs, it should be noted that efforts to grow mentoring and close the mentoring gap led some BBBS agencies to move quickly on SBM programs before there was clarity about how they should be structured. For example, in most HS Bigs programs (78%), the Bigs tended to gather and interact with other matches in 1 large space such as the school gym.

BBBS-America quickly responded to the disappointing findings from its SBM Impact Study, reworking its model and seeking ways to promote outcomes that were in line with those found in the 1995 Impact Study of community-based mentoring (Tierney & Grossman, 1995). In the Enhanced SBM model, school-based mentoring was recast to look more like CBM than SBM, with a clear goal of promoting longer, stronger matches. The Enhanced SBM model also called for a 1-year commitment for Bigs, which meant taking SBM out of the school-year cycle.

A pilot study of the Enhanced SBM model supported these changes as more matches lasted into the fall semester. Findings on youth outcomes were not reported however. But in the process of “CBM-ing” the BBBS-SBM model, the role of HS Bigs was substantially reduced. For example, only 25% of Bigs in the pilot study were HS students, and agencies were asked to wait for new guidelines before launching or expanding HS Bigs programs.

This is the backdrop for our studies on teen mentoring in Canada. It’s also important to note that roughly 60% of BBBS agencies in Canada offer HS mentoring programs whereas in the states, that number is currently less than 45%.

In my next blog, I’ll share with you the key findings from our two Canadian HS mentoring studies. Stay tuned!