New study explores the mentoring in youth transitioning out of foster care

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 9.33.08 AMMunson, M.R., Brown, S., Spencer, R., Edguer, M., & Tracy, E. (2015). Supportive relationships among former system youth with mental health challenges. Journal of Adolescent Research, 30(4), 501-529.


“Former system youth,” or young adults transitioning out of foster care, mental health, child welfare, and juvenile systems, experience poorer documented outcomes in domains of education, employment, and mental health. For these young adults who also have mental health challenges the need for supportive relationships during this transition period is especially important. The purpose of this study was to identify the “key helpers,” or “an adult that has been particularly helpful or supportive” for former system youth with mental health issues.


Interviews with former system youth revealed a variety of adults in the young adults’ lives to be key helpers, including family members, mental health professionals, important friends, and significant others. The relationships with the key helpers were characterized by

  • a) consistency (regular contact)
  • b) connectedness (“feeling cared about and loved”)
  • c) empathy
  • d) meaningful conversations and authentic dialogue
  • e) mutuality (mutual help and sharing)and
  • f) acceptance (receiving unconditional positive regard). The key helpers offered emotional support, practical advice, and even instrumental support (“providing them with some tangible necessity”).


Mentoring programs working with former system youth with mental health challenges should attempt to incorporate all of the relationship qualities these young adults find so important. Consistency is key, as lack of consistency in housing/finances has pervaded these young adults’ lives. Natural supports in the youth’s life should be fostered, as many of the “key helpers” were informal relationships with family members and friends.