Supporting mentoring relationships of youth in foster care: Do program practices predict match length?

Stelter, R., Kupersmidt, J.,& Stump, K.(2018).Supporting mentoring relationships of youth in foster care: Do program practices predict match length? American Journal of Community Psychology, Apr 15, 2018.




Summary (reprinted from the Abstract)

Implementation of research- and safety-based program practices enhance the longevity of mentoring relationships, in general; however, little is known about how mentoring programs might support the relationships of mentees in foster care.  Benchmark program practices and Standards in the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring, 3rd Edition (MENTOR, 2009) were assessed in the current study as predictors of match longevity. Secondary data analyses were conducted on a national agency information management database from 216 Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies serving 641 youth in foster care and 70,067 youth not in care from across the United States (Mean = 11.59 years old at the beginning of their matches) in one-to-one, community-based (55.06%) and school- or site-based (44.94%) matches.

Mentees in foster care had shorter matches and matches that were more likely to close prematurely than mentees who were not in foster care. Agency leaders from 32 programs completed a web-based survey describing their policies and practices. The sum total numbers of Benchmark program practices and Standards were associated with match length for 208 mentees in foster care; however, neither predicted premature match closure.

Findings and implications (reprinted from the Discussion section)

In the current study, we examined whether implementing Benchmark practices predicted premature closure for community-based matches, but did not find a significant effect.

Mentoring programs and future research should seek to identify what factors contribute to predicting premature closure in mentoring relationships of youth in care to help it from happening and its potentially negative consequences. It may be that additional, specialized, or enhanced program practices are necessary to address the unique needs of mentees in foster care and their mentors.

Consistent with this idea, mentees who had an incarcerated parent had better match outcomes when their programs when their programs implemented enhanced practices (Stump, Kupersmidt, Stelter, & Rhodes, in press). Specifically, when mentoring programs implemented specialized mentor training related to mentoring children of incarcerated parents, they had longer and stronger matches than programs that did not implement specialized mentor training (Stump et al., in press).

Similarly, mentors may need additional specialized training (e.g., on topics such as trauma-informed care or how to help their mentees secure resources and services) to be better prepared to establish an enduring mentoring relationship with a youth in foster care. In fact, mentors have reported wanting more training and support on these topics (Osterling & Hines, 2006).

The study provides further insights into the population of youth in foster care who are being served by mentoring programs and provides evidence that mentoring programs are attuned to the unique needs of foster care youth.

First, youth in foster care were, on average, slightly older than youth who were not in foster care at the time they were matched with a mentor. This difference may be an indication that many youth are targeted by mentoring programs as they begin to age out of the foster care system in order to help prepare them for this transition by providing a caring relationship with another adult.

Second, the fact that the mentors matched with foster youth were older and less likely to be single than mentors matched with non-foster youth may indicate that mentoring programs are concerned about matching this higher risk population with a mentor who is more likely to have a more stable life style due to their age and relationship status.

Third, the fact that youth in foster care were more likely to be in community-based versus site-based matches may be reflective of the extensive needs of youth in this special population including the need for out-of-school enrichment activities and long-lasting relationships that are more typical of community-based mentoring. For example, youth in foster care may be more likely to be referred to a mentoring program through their caseworker rather than their school. In addition, due to the frequently changing residential placements of youth in foster care, they also tend to move schools frequently (Sullivan, Joes, & Mathiesen, 2010); thus, school- or site-based mentoring programs may not be the best fit for these youth and this is reflected in these national findings.

Finally, foster youth are more likely to be matched with a mentor who has professional experience in a helping profession such as working in the fields of social work, mental health, childcare or daycare, clergy, or education, among others. This practice is in alignment with findings suggesting that mentors who have a background in a helping profession may be more likely to have a positive impact on match longevity (Heppe, Kupersmidt, Kef, & Schuengel, 2017) and youth outcomes (DuBois et al., 2002). Mentoring programs appear to take into consideration the unique needs and challenges of youth in foster care when recruiting and matching mentors to youth in foster care