New Research Brief from OJJDP on impacts of risk on match outcomes

Written by Justin Preston

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has recently released a Research in Brief piece on research conducted by a team of researchers at Mentoring Central, including Janis Kupersmidt, Katie Stump, Rebecca Stelter, as well as Jean Rhodes, (you can read the full brief here) around mentee risk status and mentoring program practices as they predict match outcomes.

Mentees who are facing many risk factors, such as getting a late start to their mentoring relationship (i.e. beginning in adolescence), experiencing stressful life experiences, or exhibiting antisocial behavior problems, are less likely to have long-lasting and high-quality mentoring relationships when compared to their peers who may face fewer risk factors. Mentoring programs, and the practices they employ, can make a significant difference for at-risk youth.

Premature closure of relationships can have serious consequences for youth mentees, including poorer outcomes when compared to youth who do have relationships that close when expected. As such, it is important to understand the ways in which risk factors can complicate the mentoring relationship process.

OJJDP has identified three major findings from the research that have direct implications for mentoring programs:

  1. Higher risk youth stand to benefit significantly from mentoring and pose significant challenges to mentoring programs.
    1. Programs that serve youth beginning in adolescence or with high risk loads need to ensure that they allocate the necessary resources to address these challenges. Later age at start of mentoring relationship was a factor which contributed to early match closure across all levels of risk.
    2. Children of incarcerated parents or involved in the foster care system are at particularly high risk of poor outcomes.
  1. Mentoring programs serving adolescents or youth exposed to many risk factors need to be of the highest quality and programs may need to supplement their core practices.
    1. Children of incarcerated parents participating in mentoring programs which provided specialized training to mentors specific to this population had better match outcomes and higher educational expectations.
  1. Training and support to more closely adhere to the benchmark practices in the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring (EEPM) might improve match and youth outcomes.

It is necessary to keep in mind that these findings are from research involving programs offering one-to-one mentoring in the context of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

At the end of the day, however, it is critical that mentoring programs seeking to work with youth who are at high-risk ensure that their practices and resources are up to the challenge. Such programs have demonstrated positive impact, but without a thorough, evidence-based, and well-supported approach serving as the foundation of their work there is also the potential to have no impact or even harm the youth.