New research identifies role of mentoring in youth residential care

Sulimani-Aidan, Y. (2018). Present, protective, and promotive: Mentors’ roles in the lives of young adults in residential care. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 88, 69-77. doi:10.1037/ort0000235

Summarized by Renée Klein Schaarsberg

Notes of Interest: This study suggests the development of profound mentoring relationships between youth and staff members in residential care. It is recommended that these relationships are supported by residential care settings, given the importance of mentoring relationships to positive youth outcomes. This may influence residential care settings’ policies and the way their staff members are trained.

Summary (reprinted from the Abstract):

Mentoring relationships are considered among the most significant relationships with nonparental figures and a protective factor against a wide range of negative outcomes. This exploratory study explored mentoring relationships in the lives of 140 care leavers, and the way those relationships influenced their life course.

Findings showed that most of the mentors were known to the young adults from their former care placement for 3 years and above. Thematic analysis revealed 2 main “types” of mentor: (1) a present, accessible and supportive mentor, who is mainly characterized as a parental figure and a role model, a life coach who is also a confidant; (2) a motivating and catalyzing mentor, who is characterized as promoting adaptive coping with life stressors, and leading the young adults to set and achieve their goals and change their behavioral and mental status for the better.

The discussion addresses the contribution of mentoring relationships to the young adults’ resilience in reference to social support and attachment theories. It discusses the importance of promoting a “mentoring policy” within the residential care settings, to enable youth to continue their relationships with their mentors during their challenging transition to emerging adulthood.


Implications (reprinted from the discussion and conclusion):

This study examined the mentors care leavers had and the roles they played in their lives. Youths’ chosen mentors were part of their wider social context, including residential care, extended family, and informal and formal ties.

Although one third chose family members as their mentors, especially their older siblings; the majority indicated that their mentors were staff members whom they knew from the care placements, with most youth indicating their social counselors. This finding emphasizes that formal and essentially professional relationships with staff members can become profound mentoring relationships, similar to those that can be found with a “natural mentor” in the community at large.

The fact that youth’s relationships with staff members were considered by them as meaningful mentoring relationships is encouraging. However, after leaving care, staff members are in most cases not a part of the youths’ social context, and their ability to continue their support and counseling is limited.

The importance of the timeframe in establishing significant relationships is also evident in this study, since the majority of young adults knew their mentor 3 years or more. This aspect must be taken into account when designing an intervention plan for youth in care.

The study’s finding indicating that the majority of the young adults’ mentors were staff members whom they knew from the care placement suggests the need for a “mentoring policy” within residential care placements. Such a policy could enable youth to formally continue their relationships with their mentors, or design a continuing unit that would be familiar with the youth before emancipation and continue to support and counsel them in their emerging adulthood. The finding that only few care leavers mentioned a mentor who was part of their current social network after leaving care only reinforces the understanding that care leavers need the continuity of support from their mentors as they are taking their first steps as independent young adults.

Resiliency researchers posit that “protective factors” are something that is helpful or beneficial and modifies the effects of risk in a positive direction (Luthar et al., 2000). In this study, besides acting as promoters of positive outcomes, mentors were perceived by youth as a buffer against negative outcomes and the youths’ deterioration. The mentors were described as helping youth avoid risky behaviors through conversations and restrictions. These findings indicate the integrative roles mentors play in care leavers’ lives, both as protective and promotive. Therefore, residential care placements should seek to integrate these components in their intervention planning and staff training.

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