Taking stock of 22 years of mentoring research through 22 seminal studies

By Jean Rhodes

Citation: Hagler, M. A., Jones, K. V., Anderson, A. J., McQuillin, S. D., Weiler, L. M., & Sánchez, B. (2023). Striving for safety, impact, and equity: A critical consideration of AJCP publications on formal youth mentoring programs. American Journal of Community Psychology, 1–13.https://doi.org/10.1002/ajcp.12702

In an excellent new empirical review published in the American Journal of Community Psychology (AJCP), a team of mentoring researchers took a comprehensive look at publications in youth mentoring research over the years. This review, titled “Striving for safety, impact, and equity: A critical consideration of AJCP publications on formal youth mentoring programs,” offers a reflective lens on the mentoring landscape, its evolution, and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

As the authors note: “Community psychologists and their collaborators have produced important scholarship, advancing the field’s understanding of the conditions and practices through which mentoring is safest and most effective. Many seminal studies have been published in AJCP. With the benefit of time, perspective, and collective wisdom gained from decades of research and practice, we are excited to reconsider this body of work with both a critical lens and hopeful eye towards the future”.

Methodological Rigor:
The team curated a selection of articles that would represent the breadth and depth of mentoring scholarship in AJCP, the top community psychology journal where hundreds of mentoring program articles have been published. Their search yielded 43 potential articles, from which they aimed to select approximately 20 that would best showcase the progress, scope, and major themes of this scholarship. Using a 3-tier scale, the team rated articles based on their relevance, significance, and contribution to the field. The consensus process resulted in a final list of 22 articles, encompassing a meta-analysis, program evaluations, secondary analyses, qualitative and mixed-methods studies, and theoretical reviews and commentaries.

As the authors note: “A pivotal moment in the history of mentoring scholarship was AJCP’s 2002 special issue on mentoring—the first of its kind— which included two seminal articles on formal mentoring (DuBois et al., 2002; Grossman & Rhodes, 2002). Both studies showed that mentoring could be effective and beneficial for youth, under the right conditions, while also documenting that, under others, programs could be ineffective or even harmful.

Together, these two articles raised ethical and safety concerns, highlighted the need for more research to identify the practices under which mentoring is safe and effective, and established several thematic areas of scholarly inquiry, including (1) the importance of forming high‐quality mentoring relationships, (2) associations among youth presenting problems, relationship quality, and program outcomes, and (3) program practices that lead to stronger, more impactful matches.”

The authors then trace these themes throughout the 22 selected articles (described), emphasizing both novel and replicated findings.

Authors’ Recommendations and Suggested Future Directions:

  1. Prevent Unexpected Relationship Endings: The authors emphasize the importance of strategies to prevent premature and unexpected endings of mentoring relationships.
  2. Centering Social Justice and Activism: The call is clear – mentoring practices should be deeply rooted in principles of social justice, activism, and cultural responsivity.
  3. Ecologically Valid Models: The authors advocate for mentoring models that resonate more closely with real-world contexts, such as youth-initiated, caregiver-engaged, grassroots, and community-originated mentoring.
  4. Engaging Marginalized Communities: The field must make genuine efforts to collaborate with marginalized youth and communities, ensuring their voices are central to the mentoring discourse

Table of Contents (All Published in the American Journal of Community Psychology)

Applying a Social Justice Lens to Youth Mentoring: A Review of the Literature and Recommendations for Practice

By Jamie N. Albright Noelle M. Hurd, and Saida B. Hussain

First Published: 02 June 2017

  • The authors reviewed literature on youth mentoring initiatives that intentionally incorporated a social justice lens.
  • Social justice principles need to be implemented in mentoring to improve outcomes for youth.
  • Areas to improve, detailed in the article, include program design, implementation, and evaluation.

A Pilot Evaluation of a Social Justice and Race Equity Training for Volunteer Mentors

By Amy J. Anderson and Bernadette Sánchez

First Published: 01 August 2021

  • This pilot study explored how race equity training and social justice affect the cognitive and affective outcomes of volunteer mentors within the context of cultural humility in mentoring.
  • Mentors’ self-efficiency in providing racial and ethnic support increased due to training.
  • This indicates that race equity training can do the following…
    • Help mentees cope with discrimination and develop a positive racial/ethnic identity.
    • Boost mentors’ confidence in supporting their mentees.

Mentoring and depressive symptoms of youth: Examining prospective and interactive associations with mentoring relationship quality

By Rebecca Browne G. Roger Jarjoura Thomas E. Keller Manolya Tanyu Carla Herrera, and Sarah E. O. Schwartz

First Published: 15 June 2022

  • This study explored the relationship between depressive symptoms and mentoring relationship quality.
  • Mean youth depression symptoms declined after engaging in the mentorship program.
  • Several youth-reported aspects of relationship quality correlated with shifts in youth depression symptoms.
  • Baseline depression symptoms negatively predicted relationship quality indicators.
  • Baseline depression symptoms affected the correlation between several relationship quality indicators and follow-up depression symptoms.

Mentoring Relationship Closures in Big Brothers Big Sisters Community Mentoring Programs: Patterns and Associated Risk Factors

By David J. DeWit David DuBois Gizem Erdem Simon Larose Ellen L. Lipman, and Renée Spencer

First Published: 09 April 2016

Chronicle Summary Highlights:

  • The researchers of this study sought to examine the capacity of youth vulnerability to personal and environmental risk factors, motives for program enrollment, and mentoring program supports and relationship processes that predict the closure of mentoring relationships.
  • Roughly one-third of mentees had their mentoring relationship close early at or before 11 months of duration. By 12 months, 46% had experienced a closure.
  • Youth behavioral difficulties were also associated with early closures.
  • Factors that significantly reduced the chance of an early relationship closure included: strong parental support, mentoring relationships rated by parents and youth as high quality, and frequent weekly contact between mentors and mentees. Having three or more caseworker-initiated contacts with parents was also negatively associated with early closures.

Effectiveness of Mentoring Programs for Youth: A Meta-Analytic Review

By David L. DuBois Bruce E. Holloway Jeffrey C. Valentine, and Harris Cooper
First Published: 01 April 2002

The Test of Time in School-Based Mentoring: The Role of Relationship Duration and Re-Matching on Academic Outcomes

By Jean B. Grossman Christian S. Chan Sarah E. O. Schwartz, and Jean E. Rhodes

First Published: 06 April 2011

Chronicle Summary Highlights:

  • The current study included a diverse sample of 1,139 adolescents (average age: 11.2 years), who were part of a national evaluation of Big Brother Big Sisters’ school-based mentoring program.
  • After accounting for selection bias, academic impacts were found only amongst those youth with intact matches.
  • Youth who experienced premature match terminations and who were not re-matched showed no significant differences from the controls.
  • Re-matched youth fared worse, however, performing 1.6 points lower than the controls.
  • Youth who had endured a greater number of life stressors prior to being matched were at greater risk for early match termination.
  • Two mentor characteristics were related to the likelihood that a match terminated—being a college student and having prior experience being a mentor. Matches with college student mentors were more likely to terminate early.

The Test of Time: Predictors and Effects of Duration in Youth Mentoring Relationships

By Jean B. Grossman and Jean E. Rhodes

First Published: 01 April 2002


  • This study examined the predictors and effects of youth mentor relationship duration.
  • Adolescents in relationships that lasted a year or longer experienced the most improvements.
  • Adolescents who were in relationships that prematurely terminated experienced decrements in several indicators of functioning.
  • Older adolescents, as well as those who had been referred for services or had endured emotional, sexual, or physical abuse, were most likely to be in prematurely terminating relationships.
  • Findings indicate that several dyadic factors (such as gender, race, and relationship quality) are related to premature terminations.

LET’s CONNECT Community Mentorship Program for Adolescents with Peer Social Problems: A Randomized Intervention Trial

By Cheryl A. King Polly Y. Gipson Alejandra Arango Deanna Lernihan Michael Clark Cynthia Ewell Foster Cleopatra Caldwell Neera Ghaziuddin, and Deborah Stone

First Published: 09 June 2021

  • This study assesses the effectiveness of LET’s CONNECT (LC), a community mentoring program for children who have social problems.
  • LC correlated with increased connectedness at the 6-month mark of the program. It was also associated with notable yet insignificant effects on lower depression levels and community connectedness.
  • The program did not have an impact on suicidal ideation.

Predictors of Premature Match Closure in Youth Mentoring Relationships

By Janis B. Kupersmidt Kathryn N. Stump Rebecca L. Stelter, and Jean E. Rhodes

First Published: 27 March 2017


  • This study evaluated program, mentor, and mentee traits as predictors of premature match closure.
  • Adolescent mentees are at extremely high risk for premature match closure.
  • Family risk factors correlate with early termination of mentorships.
  • Risky health behaviors strongly are predictive of premature match closure.
  • Cumulative mentee risk significantly predicts premature match closure.

Strategies for monitoring mentoring relationship quality to predict early program dropout

By Michael D. Lyons and Kelly D. Edwards

First Published: 01 March 2022

Chronicle Summary Highlights:

  • This study explores what predicts premature mentoring relationship termination in Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS).
  • Findings indicate that mentors and mentees who have the same racial &/or ethnic identity have a lower risk of terminating their relationship prematurely. This also applied to mentees’ positive perceptions of their relationship.
  • Mentoring relationship quality, on average, correlated with premature termination.
  • Further diversifying the available mentor pool for more matching opportunities can help reduce the risk of premature mentorship termination.

Finding the Sweet Spot: Investigating the Effects of Relationship Closeness and Instrumental Activities in School-based Mentoring

By Michael D. Lyons Samuel D. McQuillin, and Lora J. Henderson

First Published: 12 December 2018

  • Results suggested that youth-reported relationship quality was associated with small to medium effects on outcomes. Moreover, goal-setting and feedback-oriented activities were associated with moderate to large effects on outcomes.
  • There was a significant interaction between relationship quality and goal-setting and feedback-oriented activities on youth outcomes.

Paraprofessional Youth Mentoring: A Framework for Integrating Youth Mentoring with Helping Institutions and Professions

By Samuel D. McQuillin, Matthew A. Hagler, Alexandra Werntz, and Jean E. Rhodes

First Published: 28 July 2021

  • The transition from traditional to paraprofessional models will require mentoring programs to change their existing structure, culture, and practices.

A Two-way Street: Mentor Stress and Depression Influence Relational Satisfaction and Attachment in Youth Mentoring Relationships

By Emma G. Preston and Elizabeth B. Raposa
First Published: 20 December 2019
  • This study examined how college student mentors’ early life stressors and baseline depressive symptoms impact the effectiveness of the mentoring relationship.
  • Results indicate that mentors with elevated symptoms of depression exhibit greater avoidance and report lower relationship satisfaction in their mentoring relationship. Youth paired with mentors who had greater exposure to early life stress reported higher overall relationship satisfaction and less anxiety within the mentoring relationship.
  • Study findings demonstrate the importance of considering mentors’ baseline psychosocial backgrounds when mentor training is conducted and when mentor-mentee matches are made

The Impact of Youth Risk on Mentoring Relationship Quality: Do Mentor Characteristics Matter?

By Elizabeth B. Raposa Jean E. Rhodes, and Carla Herrera

First Published: 25 May 2016

Chronicle Summary Highlights:

  • In this study, we explored whether the effectiveness of mentoring varied depending on levels of youth risk, including youth stressors and problem behaviors. Within this context, we sought to identify the characteristics of mentors who may be better suited for building relationships with more vulnerable youth. We paid particular attention to mentors’ previous experiences and goals.
  • This study highlights the importance of taking youth risk and mentor characteristics into account. Better guidelines, as well as training protocols for mentors such as those available through Mentoring Central, can incorporate practices that improve outcomes for at-risk youth. With better understanding and tools, we can improve the reach of mentoring to youth of all backgrounds.

From Treatment to Empowerment: New Approaches to Youth Mentoring

By Sarah E.O. Schwartz and Jean E. Rhodes

First Published: 27 July 2016

  • Traditional approaches to formal youth mentoring have focused primarily on improving the lives of “at-risk” youth through the assignment of individual mentors who are typically disconnected from youths’ communities. Similarly, research in the field of formal mentoring has emphasized the dyadic relationship between the mentor and the mentee, with less attention paid to the broader relational contexts in which such relationships unfold.
  • The current paper proposes a new framework that expands the scope of mentoring interventions to include approaches that build on and cultivate informal supports and empower youth to identify and reach out to networks of potential supportive adults, thus increasing the reach of youth mentoring.

Youth Initiated Mentoring: Investigating a New Approach to Working with Vulnerable Adolescents

By Sarah E. O. Schwartz Jean E. Rhodes Renée Spencer, and Jean B. Grossman

First Published:19 June 2013

  • This article examines the use of Youth Initiated Mentoring (YIM) in the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program (NGYCP), an intensive residential program for youth who have dropped out of school, which includes a unique mentoring component after program completion.
  • Results from the study demonstrate that enduring YIM mentoring relationships were associated with greater retention of outcomes in NGYCP, particularly those who maintained their relationships with their mentors at the 38-month follow-up; they showed more positive benefits compared to controls in all areas except for substance use.
  • The study also showed that the majority of YIM relationships were long-lasting with 74% of matches continuing at 21-month follow-up; this is much longer than traditional formal mentoring relationships.
  • Results also showed that youth who chose their mentors on their own had more enduring relationships, showing that youth may be best at determining who would be a good match for them, and/or youth may be more invested in a relationship that they chose (Deci & Ryan, 1985).
  • Practically speaking, YIM relationships could help reduce the costs of recruiting mentors and also address the problems surrounding premature terminations of relationships.

Supporting Mentoring Relationships of Youth in Foster Care: Do Program Practices Predict Match Length?

By Rebecca L. Stelter Janis B. Kupersmidt, and Kathryn N. Stump

First Published: 15 April 2018

Mentoring Program Enhancements Supporting Effective Mentoring of Children of Incarcerated Parents

By Kathryn N. Stump Janis B. Kupersmidt Rebecca L. Stelter and Jean E. Rhodes

First Published: 26 April 2018

A Positive Youth Development Approach to Improving Mental Health Outcomes for Maltreated Children in Foster Care: Replication and Extension of an RCT of the Fostering Healthy Futures Program

By Heather N. Taussig Lindsey M. Weiler Edward F. Garrido Tara Rhodes Ashley Boat, and Melody Fadell

First Published: 30 August 2019

Youth Risk and Mentoring Relationship Quality: The Moderating Effect of Program Experiences

By Lindsey M. Weiler Ashley A. Boat, and Shelley A. Haddock

First Published:29 January 2019

Chronicle Summary Highlights:

  • This study examined if mentor program experiences (i.e. support for efficiency, mattering, and opportunities to belong, supportive bonds with the staff, supportive relationships with the staff, as well as program structure) and youth risks were associated with mentor relationship quality. They also examined whether mentors’ program experience moderated the connection between youth risk and mentoring relationship quality.
  • Results indicated that environmental risk, but no individual risk, was negatively associated with relationship quality. Furthermore, certain mentors’ experiences moderated the association.
  • Implications for the mentoring program, Campus Connections, were discussed.

Mentoring Children in Foster Care: Examining Relationship Histories as Moderators of Intervention Impact on Children’s Mental Health and Trauma Symptoms

By Lindsey M. Weiler Sun-Kyung Lee Jingchen Zhang Kadie Ausherbauer Sarah E. O. Schwartz Stella S. Kanchewa, and Heather N. Taussig

First Published: 26 July 2021

Chronicle Summary Highlights:

  • This study assesses whether youths’ relational histories moderated the impact the Fostering Healthy Futures program (FHF) had on youths’ trauma symptoms, mental health, and quality of life.
  • FHF has a positive impact on youth in foster care with diverse relational histories.
  • Prior mentoring experiences and relationship quality with foster parents didn’t moderate the effects of the intervention.
  • Caregiver instability pre-program and relationship quality with birth parents moderated the effects of several intervention outcomes.
  • Quality of life had a stronger effect on youth with poorer relationships with their birth parents and experienced fewer caregiver changes.
  • Youth with fewer shifts in their caregivers were more affected by trauma symptoms.

Culturally Responsive Practices: Insights from a High-Quality Math Afterschool Program Serving Underprivileged Latinx Youth

By Mark Vincent B. Yu Yangyang Liu Stephanie Soto-Lara Kayla Puente Perla Carranza Alessandra Pantano, and Sandra D. Simpkins

First Published: 26 April 2021