Capital & core mentoring: supporting system-involved youth

Gowdy, G., Spencer, R., Udofia, I., Fennell, Z., & Jones, A. (2023). Core and capital mentoring—in real life: A qualitative exploration of different types of youth-initiated mentoring relationships with systems-involved youth. Journal of Adolescent Research

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Mentoring is a well-known approach that can prevent systems-related outcomes (e.g., delinquency) as well as promote positive youth development (e.g., strengthen aspirations and educational attainment).
  • Capital and core mentorships are unique relationship types that have different qualities, traits, and outcomes.
    • Core mentors primarily consist of people who belong to a youth’s immediate social network, such as family members, who provide instrumental and emotional support.
    • Capital mentors consist of people who provide information and guidance and are not part of a youth’s immediate social network (e.g., teachers).
  • This study explores the experiences of systems-involved mentees and how their relationships align with the capital and core mentoring typology.
  • Youths in capital mentorships discussed future-oriented subjects, like education, life skills, and occupations.
  • Youths in core mentorships had kin-like bonds where they received positive appraisals, reassurance, and other forms of emotional support.
  • Both core and capital mentees highlighted the importance of experiential empathy (a combination of empathy and mutuality) and how it contributed to meaningful relationships.
    • Mentees felt like their mentors genuinely understood them whenever they [the mentors] shared relevant experiences.
  • Several mentoring dyads weren’t strictly capital or core (they were a combination of both). While the sample is too small to make any conclusions, it demonstrates some nuances.
  • These findings provide context on what types of support school-based, familial, and employment-based mentors provide and have implications for general mentoring.
  • Given the importance of experiential empathy across both mentoring, mentors can benefit from training about it.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Core and capital mentoring relationships have been demonstrated to be distinct types of relationships that have different characteristics, qualities of the relationship, and are linked to different outcomes among adolescents more generally. The present study adds to this growing literature base by examining whether this typology captures well the experiences of systems-involved youth. A thematic analysis of interviews with systems-involved young people about their youth-initiated mentoring relationship indicated that capital mentoring relationships had an explicit future-oriented nature about them, with a central focus on educational and vocational goals. These mentors also provided financial literacy and life skill training. Young people in core mentoring relationships spoke of their time together quite differently, instead focusing on provision of emotional support, specifically reassurance and positive appraisal, coupled with a kin-like description of the mentor (e.g., “like a family member”). This study adds nuance to our growing understanding of the distinctions between core and capital relationships and the findings here also indicated that some mentoring relationships that were sometimes a true mix of core and capital mentoring. Also apparent from this analysis was the central role that the provision of experiential empathy played in both types of relationships.

Implications (Reprinted from the Conclusion)

This examination of systems-involved youth’s accounts of their mentoring relationships contributes to both the growing literature base on core and capital mentoring and our understanding on the role of empathy and mutuality in anchoring relationships. Most, but not all, of these anchor relationships could be categorized as either predominantly core or capital. Although these youth’s descriptions of their relationships generally aligned previous quantitative findings (capital mentors tend to be connected to formal institutions and provide more informational support while core mentors tend to be long-standing, close relationships with those in the young person’s immediate social network, and provide more emotional and instrumental supports), these youth’s qualitative descriptions add greater detail about the nature of these relationship types. Youth whose relationships were categorized as capital mentoring relationships talked extensively about their future-oriented conversations with their mentors, particularly around educational and vocational goals. Education, occupation, and “life skills,” including financial literacy, were the major focus. Although the focus on career and educational goals was always assumed given the typical social role of the mentor (i.e., teacher, employer) and outcomes of capital mentorship (economic mobility) (Gowdy & Spencer, 2021), we did not previously appreciate that these goals are of central focus of the everyday interactions within these relationships. Among the youth whose relationships were categorized as core mentoring relationships, the kinship-like qualities of these relationships were notable as was the high level of the emotional support these youth described receiving. Reassurance and positive appraisal were a keen focus in these young people’s accounts.

Regardless of the type of relationship, these young people emphasized the importance of experiential empathy, a provision of both empathy and mutuality, as being an important part of what made these relationships meaningful to them. They described how their mentors sharing aspects of their own experiences that connected to what the youth was encountering made them feeling like their mentors truly understood them. This emerging finding focusing on empathy is in alignment with previous work that emphasizes empathy and mutuality as key relational processes that in turn support positive outcomes from mentoring relationships (Spencer et al., 2020). Given the fact that these interviews focused on a chosen important mentor to young people through the YIM model, these findings also contribute to what we know about webs of support, the role an anchoring mentor plays within a web of support for a young person, and the qualities of such a relationship (Varga & Zaff, 2018).

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