New research on how youth-initiated mentoring can possibly redress problems faced by many mentoring programs.

Spencer, R., Gowdy, G., Drew, A. L., & Rhodes, J. E. (2018). “Who Knows Me the Best and Can Encourage Me the Most?”: Matching and Early Relationship Development in Youth-Initiated Mentoring Relationships with System-Involved Youth. Journal of Adolescent Research. doi:10.1177/0743558418755686

Summarized by Rachel Thompson

Notes of Interest: This exploratory qualitative study showed that the YIM approach facilitates a positive and supportive relationship development between youth and mentor. This approach empowers youth to identify a mentor on their own, by giving them the opportunity to reflect on and define what attributes of a mentor they find most important. Findings show that YIM is important for engaging vulnerable youth since they are at the greatest risk of mentoring relationship failure.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Youth-initiated mentoring (YIM), in which youth select adults from within their communities to serve as mentors in relationships that are formalized through mentoring programs, has the potential to redress problems faced by many mentoring programs that could adversely affect system-involved youth, such as volunteer attrition and premature match closures. However, only a few programs have implemented YIM, and there is little research on this approach. This qualitative interview study examines the formation of YIM relationships and how they are experienced by mentors (n = 14), youth (n = 17), and the youths’ parent/guardian (n = 6). Youth tended to select adults whom they had encountered through school or social services. Findings indicate that the YIM selection process contributed to mentor, youth, and parent/guardian investment in the mentoring relationship and to the youth’s rapid development of feelings of closeness and trust in the mentor. Knowing that mentors would be nonjudgmental, trustworthy, and dedicated appeared to facilitate positive relationship development, which is important given the difficulty of engaging and serving system-involved youth in mentoring programs.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Results from this study suggest that YIM is a promising intervention to provide supportive adult relationships to system-involved youth within the context of formal mentoring programs and, in fact, may result in the involvement of both youth and mentors who would not have otherwise engaged in formal mentoring. Evidence suggests that with appropriate coaching from program staff, these youth are able to successfully identify potential mentors who are willing to serve. Programs considering implementing YIM practices should include the youth’s parent/guardian in the process as appropriate, which may improve the parent’s engagement in the program and support for the mentoring relationships. Given the rapid relationship development and strong commitment described by YIM youth and mentors, embracing a YIM model might reduce challenges in the relationship down the line, making supporting the matches over the long-term easier and less time-consuming for staff.

Prospective studies that track the development of these relationships over time and that follow them beyond the 1-year mark are needed to more fully assess relationship quality and to discern their durability. Furthermore, by not including those youth and adults who declined to participate or youth who were unable to identify a mentor, thereby restricting our understanding of some potential limitations of the YIM approach.

Examinations of the effectiveness of YIM in promoting positive youth outcomes are also needed, no study of the effectiveness of YIM in a stand-alone program has been undertaken to date. Comparative studies of YIM and traditional matching and program-level examinations of YIM implementation would also offer important information about the relative value of making the programmatic changes needed to implement YIM. The findings here indicate that the examination of whether this approach may serve to address the significant problem of volunteer attrition faced by many traditional programs is warranted. There may also be benefits to the adults who are selected, including improvements in self-perception, sense of purpose, and civic engagement.

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