The Benefits of “Mentor Families” in Youth Mentoring Programs

Group Mentoring Shot Weiler, L.M., Zimmerman, T.S., Haddock, S., & Krafchick, J. (2014). Understanding the              experience of mentor families in therapeutic youth mentoring. Journal of Community Psychology, 42 (1),  80-98.


A strong emotional connection and subsequent close relationship between a mentor and a mentee is a major factor in distinguishing youth mentoring programs that are associated with better outcomes from those programs that see only neutral or even detrimental outcomes (Rhodes, 2002; 2005).  Thus, program components that encourage relationship quality while offering opportunities to promote youth outcomes should be a main focus. In the current study, the program utilizes a program feature known as Mentor Families, which is when 3 to 4 pairs of mentors and mentees engage in structured activities together within a larger mentoring community. This Mentor Families component aims to decrease feelings of isolation, increase mentor confidence and commitment, and also provide a network of multiple positive role models and relationships for both the mentors and mentees (Deutsch et al., 2013).


87 youth from the Campus Corps: Therapeutic Mentoring of At-Risk Youth program, a 12- week therapeutic youth mentoring program at Colorado State University, participated in the study. Participants were youth who were at risk for entering into the juvenile justice system and first-time offenders. They ranged in age from 10 to 18 (Mean=15.21) with 46% female. The families of the youth were involved and supported by being connected with other community resources, as needed. The program aims to prevent delinquency and recidivism, while addressing possible substance use problems, and promoting protective factors such as academic success.  Mentors were selected from a competitive pool of college students, with the majority being female mentors (87% ).

The program lasted for 12 weeks, with 1 sessions per week (4-8pm), including ~30 youth and 30 student mentors,  8 mentor coaches, and one family therapist supervisor participating each night. Sessions would consist of the following:

  • Mentor Families taking intentional walks around the campus (talking about higher education, majors and careers, as well as catching up on the week.)
  • Mentors provide individualized tutoring for their mentee (homework, study skills, goal setting, career planning)
  • Nutritious dinner is provided and eaten within the Mentor Family
  • Two one-hour blocks, where mentor and mentee dyads engage with other pairs in a variety of prosocial activities (e.g., art projects, sports, writing, dance, and science experiments)


Findings suggest that Mentor Families provides:

  • a place for mentors to receive support and supervision
  • mentors and mentees to feel like they belong
  • mentees to grow and learn.

Support and Supervision:

Results show that the Mentor Family experience appears to support the one-on-one mentoring relationship as well as increase satisfaction of youth.

Mentors felt encouraged by the communication with fellow mentors (peer supervision) and with direct supervisors (mentor coaches, therapist instructors). Mentors described feeling comforted by the availability of the Mentor Coaches and instructors; thereby, feeling more present and engaged with their mentees.

One mentor stated: “If one mentor had to interject with another mentee, it was helpful. Having the ‘back up’ from other mentors was really helpful.”

A Place to Belong:

The intentional community of Mentor Families created an environment to which mentors and mentees could be connected; mentors reported feeling more connected themselves, as well as observing a sense of connection in the mentees (i.e., with other mentees or mentors in the Mentor Family). Youth also reported feeling connected.

Mentor: “I  think it kind of gave the mentees some ‘go-to’ people, if they didn’t know anyone.”

Mentor: ” I think [Mentor Families] were really helpful. You can only learn so much from one person. It helped to have different types of personalities and mentoring styles to impact their mentees.”

A Place to Learn and Grow:

Mentor Families appeared to provide a context in which change can come and provide opportunities for learning and growth. Mentors and mentees both noted the added benefit of multiple adult role models, positive peer networks, and opportunities for social interaction.

Mentors reported youth progress related to:

  • social competence
  • self regulation
  • responsibility
  • empathy
  • overcoming barriers related to shyness or withdrawal
  • acting more appropriately


Overall, this study demonstrated the effectiveness that the program component of Mentor Families can play in a youth mentoring program. Specifically, mentors and mentees report that Mentor Families can provide a place to receive support and supervision, belong, and grow and learn.  Given that so much importance is placed on the one-on-one mentoring relationship in most programs, the addition of The Mentor Family may also help youth still have positive experiences even if they do not click with their specific mentor and/or the mentors have difficulty fulfilling their commitment. These results need to be explicitly tested through quantitative means, but this study shows that Mentor Families may be an effective way to not only support mentor-mentee relationships but to provide additional opportunities for relationships and other positive outcomes.