Study shows mentors can reduce trauma symptoms in foster care youths

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 9.35.03 PMJohnson, S. B., & Pryce, J. M. (2013). Therapeutic of mentoring: Reducing the impact of trauma for foster care youth. Child Welfare, 92(3), 9-25.

 Summarized by Elyssa Weber, UMass Boston Clinical doctoral student

Introduction: It is estimated that fifty to seventy-five percent of children coming into the foster care system have serious emotional or behavioral symptomology.  Despite having serious emotional and behavioral symptoms, many of these children do not receive mental health care.  Previous studies have shown that mentorship is a promising psychosocial supportive intervention for at-risk children.  However, only a few studies have explored its effects for foster care youths.  Thus, the goal of the current study was to investigate the benefits of specialized approach, therapeutic mentoring, for children in foster care. Therapeutic mentoring recruits individuals from helping profession backgrounds to serve as paid mentors.

Method: Participants were 262 children (predominantly African American) enrolled in foster care.  Children received supportive care (e.g. family therapy, case management) (n=156), or supportive care plus mentoring by a paid trained professional (n=106).  Mentors met with the youths three to five hours each week and were supervised monthly by a master’s level clinician. Children were assessed every six months by clinicians, while in the program, using the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strength (CANS) Measure.  In particular, trauma, strengths, risk behaviors, and daily functioning were assessed.


  • Children who received mentoring had a significant reduction in traumatic stress symptoms including re-experiencing memories of traumatic events, avoidance, numbing and dissociation, as compared to children who did not receive mentoring
  • Children who did not receive mentoring had a significant increase in traumatic stress symptoms and also reported an increase in traumatic stressors (e.g.,  neglect).
  • No differences were found in levels of social and family functioning.

Implications: Findings suggest that mentored youth in foster care, with histories of trauma, experienced less additional trauma and trauma symptoms than non-mentored youth.  However, the mechanism by which mentoring promotes adjustment to trauma and trauma symptoms is still not well understood.  Further studies are needed to elucidate the mechanisms, by which mentoring benefits at-risk youth.

Although the mechanisms remain unknown, this study suggests that therapeutic mentoring may be a useful addition to therapy and other supportive services (e.g. case management) for children in foster care.