New exploratory study evaluates a youth mentoring program partnership

Silke, C., & Brady, B. (2022). Youth mentoring as a supportive resource for young people involved with CAMHS: An exploratory study. Galway: UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, University of Galway.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Evidence indicates that adolescent well-being and mental health have notably languished over the last two decades.
    • Youth mentoring is a promising community-based intervention that can help provide psychological support and promote positive youth outcomes.
    • This research report examines the experiences of youth who participated in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)* – Foróige’s Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS) partnership.
      • It also assesses the value of mentoring from the viewpoints of youths, mentors, parents, and staff members.
    • Most of the mentees said that they established close relationships with their mentors.
    • The sample pinpointed three aspects of their mentorships:
      • Mutuality & friendship
      • Trust
      • Empathy & understanding
    • Study participants identified a myriad of factors that appear to impact the quality of mentorships:
      • Mentor & youth age
      • Match length
      • Match similarity
      • Mentor characteristics
      • Previous mentoring experiences
      • Mentor’s approach to mentoring
      • Interpersonal history
      • Mentoring activities
      • Communication practices
      • Family contexts
    • Participating in the program correlated with the following outcomes:
      • Relationship & social skills
      • Self-identity
      • Confidence
      • Coping & well-being
      • Mood & positive affect
      • Functioning & independence
    • There are several mentoring processes and practices that the sample believed help youth develop:
      • Providing support
      • Relationship modeling
      • Role modeling
      • Emotional coaching
      • Fun & escapism
      • Broadening horizons
    • Mentoring is a good resource for youth with mild or moderate emotional, behavioral, social, and/or cognitive problems.
    • While the overall results demonstrate support for the program partnership, it also highlights problems that have practice and research implications. Participants critiqued the communication between CAMHS & BBBS staff members, delays between referral submissions & mentoring matches, mentor shortages, and limited program funding/resources.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Introduction)

Adolescence is an important developmental stage in which lasting patterns of health and wellbeing are established (Sawyer et al., 2012). Due to the social, mental and physical changes that occur during this transitional period, adolescence is regarded as a time of increased sensitivity and vulnerability, with research suggesting that mental health issues surge during the adolescent period (Schwarz, 2009; Malla et al., 2018). Epidemiological evidence from both national and international research suggests that adolescent mental health and wellbeing has deteriorated significantly over the last two decades (Cosma et al., 2020; Centre for Disease Control, 2020). There is widespread concern that this decline in youth wellbeing has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic (Fegert et al., 2020). Mental health problems can have a severe impact on the social and emotional development of the young person, are linked to poorer long-term health, and are also a major risk factor for suicidal behaviour (Collishaw & Sellers, 2020; Patel et al., 2018).

Public health professionals and policy makers have identified the need to respond to this decline in youth mental health as a public health priority (Collishaw & Sellers, 2020). In Ireland, youth mental health is widely recognised as an area in need of increased policy focus, with Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014–2020, acknowledging the importance of integrated policy solutions to promote youth mental health and wellbeing.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Findings from the current research indicated that young people who are referred to the Big Brother Big Sister programme due to their association with the Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services typically form high-quality relationships with their mentors and show signs of positive development, across an array of outcome areas. The current research also identified several mentoring practices that appear to aid young people’s positive development, and provided further insight into the factors that may strengthen (or weaken) the quality of the youth–mentor relationship. A visual overview of the mentoring framework observed in the current research is provided in Figure 6 below. Overall, the current study found support for the BBBS–CAMHS partnership, with evidence suggesting that the BBBS programme is associated with positive outcomes for young people and families. However, the findings of this research also identified some challenges/issues that may affect staff and service users. These findings have important implications for research and practice as they provide insight into the perceived utility of the BBBS programme and its working relationship with CAMHS from a multi-stakeholder perspective.

From the perspective of young people, mentors, parents and staff who participated in the current research, the majority of young people who are referred from CAMHS to the BBBS programme form authentic, high-quality relationships with their mentors, relationships which were characterised by mutual, empathetic, understanding, trusted friendships. Previous research has indicated that the strength and quality of the relationship that develops between young people and mentors is critical for the success of formal mentoring programmes and is a key mechanism through which youth experience positive development (Rhodes, 2005; Pryce et al., 2021; DeWit et al., 2019; Raposa et al., 2019). The findings from the current research lend support to this perspective and provide further evidence to suggest that high-quality mentoring relationships are associated with positive youth outcomes. Nonetheless, the friendship that was typically formed between young people and mentors in the BBBS programme should also be regarded as an important outcome in its own right. Recent conceptualisations of mentoring propose that quality mentoring relationships can serve as both a means for achieving a targeted end and as a valued end in itself (Cavell et al., 2021). In the current research, young people referred to the BBBS programme were frequently described as being socially withdrawn, disconnected or isolated, with participants often noting that these young people had difficulties connecting with or trusting others. However, despite their previous interpersonal difficulties, young people were able to form meaningful, trusted connections with their mentors, which for some appeared to be their main form of social interaction outside of the family context. Hence, the positive youth–mentor friendships observed within the current research can be regarded as both an outcome and a process for promoting change.

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