New study explores how individual & environmental stressors and presenting challenges affect youth mentoring outcomes

Poon, C. Y. S., Herrera, C., Jarjoura, R., McQuillin, S. D., Keller, T. E., & Rhodes, J. E. (2022). Deconstructing “Risk” in Youth Mentoring Programs: How Environmental Stressors and Presenting Challenges Shape Mentoring Relationship Outcomes. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 02724316221078833. https://doi.org/10.1177/02724316221078833

Summarized by Ariel Ervin  

Notes of Interest:

  • A majority of mentoring programs serve underrepresented youth who experience a wide range of emotional, behavioral, &/or environmental challenges. 
  • Despite the popularity of youth mentorships in America, there’s a lack of studies that examine youth presenting challenges within formal mentoring programs.
  • This study examined how individual & environmental stressors predict patterns of youth presenting challenges and how it, in turn, affects mentorship outcomes. 
  • Sociodemographic differences differed across the four profiles identified in the analyses. 
    • For instance, mentees in the moderate & elevated profiles were more likely to be female, while mentees in the HESLI* profile were more likely to be male than mentees in the low profile. 
  • Environmental challenges correlated with more severe presenting challenges. 
    • More specifically, youth in the HESLI*, moderate, & elevated profiles correlated with various environmental issues, like living in a low-income household, being in the foster care system, or having a family member in the criminal justice system. 
  • Youth in the low profile stated that they had notably higher perceived youth centeredness, growth focus, closeness, and mentor-mentee relational groups levels than youth in other profiles. 
  • Youth mentoring programs can tailor their strategies based on youth needs and traits to ensure that youth of various risk profiles are benefiting from their programming. 

* = High Externalizing and Social Challenges and Low Internalizing Challenges 

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract) 

Youth referred to mentoring programs vary considerably in the range and severity of difficulties (i.e., behavioral, internalizing, social and academic) and environmental challenges they face. However, their patterns of risk and corresponding consequences for mentoring have rarely been investigated. This study draws on data for youth participants in 30 mentoring programs (n = 2,165, 55.1% females) to examine patterns of presenting challenges. Four profiles emerged using three-step latent profile analyses. Profiles with more intensive symptoms were associated with more environmental stressors. Moreover, there were significant differences between profiles in youth-perceived relationship attributes, including closeness, youth-centeredness, growth focus and mentor-mentee relational health. The profile with the highest externalizing and social challenge indicators scored the lowest across these four relational indices. The results highlight variability of youth risk at baseline, and its differential impact on mentoring relationship outcomes. Implications for mentoring programs are discussed.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion) 

The purpose of this study was to understand differential patterns of presenting challenges among youth mentees and how these might be associated with individual and environmental stressors. We also explored associations between patterns of mentees’ presenting challenges and mentoring relationship outcomes, including match duration and indicators of relationship quality. Overall, results indicated statistically meaningful subgroups of mentees based on their presenting challenges at baseline (i.e., Low, Moderate, Elevated, HESLI). The emergence of these profiles showed that mentees’ presenting challenges can be understood through the lens of varying intensities and combinations across problem domains, as well as through specific, dominant types of challenges. This is consistent with youth development studies, in which presenting challenges rarely occur in isolation (Barker et al., 2010; Valdez et al., 2011). LPA is typically advantageous when researchers are interested in identifying homogenous subgroups within a sample (Lanza & Rhoades, 2013). In this case, it allowed for examining the possible constellation of youth presenting challenges in mentoring programs.

It is important to note that the majority (70%) of youth in this study fit into the Low profile, presenting with relatively low levels of internalizing, externalizing, and social challenges. Although it is encouraging that most youth are functioning relatively well despite adversity, this finding also highlights the fact that a sizable minority (almost a third) present with challenges that may jeopardize match quality. Interestingly, academic challenges, as indicated by grades, appear to be similar across all profiles. Self-reported grades capture only one aspect of academic challenges, and it is possible that other indicators (e.g., learning differences, teacher-rated performance, school engagement, attendance), or a combination of indicators may yield different associations with the challenges we measured in this study.

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