Study highlights the mentoring experiences and needs of adolescents & professionals in youth residential care?

Harder, A. T., Eenshuistra, A., & Knorth, E. J. (2022). Feeling better: Experiences and needs of adolescents and professionals regarding their mentoring relationship in residential youth care. Child & Youth Care Forum, 51(3), 613–631.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Youth in residential care exhibit more severe issues than youth in family-style group care and foster care.
  • Although mentoring is often associated with positive youth outcomes, little is known about how it affects adolescents in youth residential care.
  • This study examines the experiences and needs of adolescents and professionals in youth residential care.
  • Adolescent participants stated that they primarily talked about how they were doing with their individual contacts. They also mentioned that it was hard for them to talk about their home/family situations.
  • The professionals strove to gain insights into their adolescents and achieve goals through conversations with them. They had a difficult time talking about sexuality.
  • While the adolescents (and the professionals) were satisfied with their conversations, a majority of them felt like they didn’t need it.
  • Despite this finding, adolescents said that they prefer a mentor who is respectful, calm, a good listener, and is hesitant to provide advice. They also think that the way a mentor relates to them is essential to their conversations.
  • Professionals used a variety of approaches to initiate good contact and accomplish change with adolescents.
  • Adolescents and professionals had different ideas about how the mentorships could improve.
    • Adolescents highlighted the importance of having shorter conversations in private.
    • Professionals emphasized having substantive, future-oriented conversations and maintaining high-quality professionalism.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)


In residential youth care, group care workers and teachers often serve as a mentor for individual adolescents. Although favorable mentoring relationships are associated with positive adolescent outcomes, few studies examined the role of mentoring in residential youth care.


The present study aims to assess adolescents’, care workers’ and teachers’ mentoring relationship needs in terms of their one-on-one conversations during residential care.


We conducted structured interviews with eleven adolescents, ten group care workers and two teachers and content analysis to assess the data


All respondents are rather satisfied with their conversations, which are often concerned with how the adolescent is doing. Adolescents mostly consider their family and home-situation as difficult topics, while care workers mostly consider sexuality as a difficult topic to talk about. Although ‘improvement’ with the youth is often the aim, most adolescents report that they do not (know if they) show changes because of these conversations. Moreover, only one of the twelve professionals thinks that it is his core task to achieve behavior change with the adolescents. According to the professionals, conversations often aim at building a good relationship, coaching, determining treatment goals, and gaining insight into the adolescent. Adolescents prefer a mentor who is calm, has respect, listens, and is reluctant in giving advice. Most professionals do not use a specific method and doubt whether they want to have conversations according to a manual or support tool.


Despite being rather satisfied, adolescents and professionals indicate several points for improvement of one-on-one conversations.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The aim of this study was to examine how adolescents and professionals in residential youth care experience their individual contacts and needs regarding their one-on-one conversations during care. According to the adolescents, these conversations often aim at achieving improvement, such as feeling better. According to the professionals, achieving goals and gaining insight into the adolescent are the most frequent aims of the conversations. This does not correspond with our expectation that the conversations would mainly be focused on providing practical support. Adolescents mostly consider their family and situation at home as difficult topics (cf. Harder et al., 2017), while care workers mostly consider sexuality as a difficult topic to talk about. Regarding the experiences with their individual contacts, both the adolescents and professionals are generally satisfied. We expected, however, that adolescents would experience a lack of individual attention and that professionals would experience many difficulties. Although the adolescents by and large were satisfied, a majority does not necessarily have a need for these conversations, while we expected that the adolescents really needed this type of individual support. This might be related to adolescents’ ideas about such conversations: risking more of an ‘interrogation’ than a dialogue, and this is something young people do not welcome at all, especially if questions (implicitly) are pursuing a certain normative angle (Damour, 2016; McMullin, 2018).

Although most adolescents do not necessarily have a need for one-on-one conversations, they prefer a mentor who is calm, has respect, listens to the adolescent, and is reluctant in giving advice, which is consistent with other research findings on professional’s treatment skills that associate with a positive therapeutic relationship (Harder et al., 2013; Schottke et al., 2017). This corresponds with our expectation that adolescents need professionals who are involved, empathic, respectful, and understanding towards the adolescents. The adolescents think the way the mentor relates to them during the conversations is very important. Professionals also think that having a connection with the young person is important. According to Clough, Bullock & Ward (2004, p. 118) ‘… it is not surprising that the quality of the relationship between adult carer and child is frequently cited as a key factor in successful practice’. However, only one of the twelve professionals in our study thinks that it is his core task to achieve behavior change with the young person. This suggests that residential care workers mainly focus on care and not on cure, while both these aspects are essential to therapeutic residential care (Harder, 2018; Whittaker et al., 2016).

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