New study finds youth-initiated mentoring is associated with positive youth outcomes

van Dam, L., Blom, D., Kara, E., Assink, M., Stams, G.-J., Schwartz, S., & Rhodes, J. (2020). Youth Initiated Mentoring: A Meta-analytic Study of a Hybrid Approach to Youth Mentoring. Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Youth-initiated mentoring is a unique, hybrid approach that has the potential of combining features from informal & formal mentorships.
  • This study explores the relationship between youth-initiated programs and youth outcomes based on academic & vocational functioning, psychosocial issues, social-emotional development, and physical health. 
  • Findings suggest that youth-initiated programs positively correlate with positive youth outcomes. 
  • Youth are encouraged to seek support from their communities. This can make youth-initiated programs a more viable approach to connect to youth, as well as strengthen bonds across their families and communities, without having to rely on expensive programs.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Youth initiated mentoring is a hybrid approach that empowers youth to identify and recruit natural mentors, potentially combining the strengths of informal mentoring relationships with the infrastructure and support provided by formal mentoring programs. This meta-analytic review examined the association between youth-initiated programs and youth outcomes across four domains: academic and vocational functioning, social-emotional development, physical health, and psychosocial problems. Results indicated that youth-initiated programs are significantly associated with positive youth outcomes. There was a small-to-medium effect size of g = 0.30 for youth-initiated programs overall, which was based on 14 studies with 11 independent samples (3594 youth and 169 effect sizes) from 2006 to 2019. The effect size was somewhat larger (g = 0.40) when controlling for possible selection bias, and was moderated by participant gender and year of publication. Implications for theory and practice regarding this relatively new approach to mentoring are discussed.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The present study represents a meta-analysis of YIM programs, a strategy that involves helping youth to identify, recruit, and maintain connections with caring adults. This three-level meta-analysis represents a review of 14 studies with 11 independent samples (3594 youth and 169 effect sizes); the review examined the effectiveness of the YIM approach, accounting for the impact of study, sample, publication, measurement, outcome, and program characteristics. The present study revealed an overall significant small-to-medium effect size (g = 0.30) for YIM, which may be a slight underestimation of the true effect size (g = 0.40).

The relatively larger effects of the YIM approach relative to meta-analyses of formal mentoring (g = 0.21; Raposa et al. 2019) and natural mentoring (g = 0.22; van Dam et al. 2018) may stem from the fact that most YIM programs have been designed to target specific problems (e.g., violence prevention in a high-violence area, prevention of suicide, and out-of-home placement). This targeted approach contrasts with most formal mentoring programs, including programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, which tend to take a non-specific, friendship approach as they seek to serve youth with widely varying needs (Cavell and Elledge 2014; Rhodes 2020). Recent meta-analyses have shown that programs that target specific youth outcomes based on the population served are far more effective than non-specific programs (g = 0.25 versus g = 0.11; Christensen et al. 2020). Moreover, several of the interventions included in this meta-analysis incorporated professional mental health treatment with the YIM approach, a focus that may have resulted in stronger treatment motivation, more positive adult-youth alliances, and improved goal orientation (Van Dam and Schwartz 2020).

Likewise, a number of the programs included in the meta-analysis embedded the YIM program within the context of other interventions which, in theory, could contribute to larger effect sizes. Surprisingly, however, moderator analyses failed to detect significant differences in programs that delivered YIM as a stand-alone intervention versus YIM as an embedded intervention, though the positive effect of YIM as an embedded intervention was two times larger. It is likely that lack of statistical power may have contributed to the non-significant effect.

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