The Crucial Role of Family and Social Networks in Cross-Racial Mentoring with Black Youth

Reference: Jones, K., Parra-Cardona, R., Sánchez, B., Vohra-Gupta, S., & Franklin, C. (2023). Forming an alliance: mentor’s perspectives on the role of family and social networks in cross-racial mentoring relationships with Black youth. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work.

Summarized by Ellen Parry Luff

About the Study:

As community-based mentoring (CBM) programs become more popular, more and more research is highlighting the ways that positive relationships between mentors and the mentee’s family and social network are beneficial for the mentoring relationship. However, despite this, there is a lack of empirical research examining the relationships between mentors and families with different racial, ethnic, cultural, and class backgrounds. This is a particularly important area to research within the CBM context since a majority of mentors identify as non-Hispanic white and middle class, while youth recipients predominantly identify as Black and/or lower middle class or working class. The current study explores how non-Black mentors interact with families and social networks, how these interactions are impacted by race and class differences, and how these interactions/relationships influence the mentoring relationship. The research aims to contribute nuanced insights to aid in refining mentoring programs and social work practices.

Key Findings:

  • Mentors underscored the importance of building deep bonds with the mentee’s family and social network, as it also helped build closeness with the mentee. Mentors noted that to do this, it was important to be actively involved in mentees’ interpersonal lives by seeking out opportunities to interact with the family and community.
  • Additionally, mentors found that building trust with the caregiver was essential. Mentors stated that this is a gradual process that is achieved through working with the caregiver on coordinating and reaching agreements around mentoring activities, goals, and topics discussed with the mentee.
  • Some mentors discussed the reciprocal benefits of including their own families in the mentoring relationship. Mentors highlighted positive experiences for both the mentee and the mentor’s family members when brought together.
  • Mentors reported barriers to forming relationships with families and social networks, such as being perceived as a threat to the parent-child relationship. However, the mentors noted that these challenges were very dependent on the personality and life circumstances of the families.
  • Mentors also highlighted the ways that race and class differences impacted the relationships. In particular, they noted that differences in race sometimes negatively impacted trust-building with the caregiver. Additionally, class differences sometimes led to disconnects between the families and the mentors, such as goal-setting and boundary maintenance around providing financial support.

Implications for Mentoring:

While the findings contribute to our understanding of the role of mentor interactions with families and social networks in cross-racial mentoring relationships, there is still more research to be done in this area. For example, the authors acknowledge that there is still a lack of knowledge about the cultural and contextual factors that influence specific youth developmental outcomes, particularly for Black youth. Based on the findings, the authors call for more research and work surrounding how social justice frameworks can be implemented in mentoring, particularly with mentors who work with minoritized youth. They state that the field of social work may be very well suited for this undertaking. Additionally, the authors suggest that these gaps could be addressed through the use of training and program evaluations to test the effectiveness of social justice-informed mentoring. Overall, the study demonstrates the importance of engaging with the mentees’ community and calls for a turn towards a community cultural wealth model. Through a more collectivist lens, mentors and social workers can work to support not just the individual but vital members of their social network as well.

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