Why do parents want a mentor for their child? A comparison between community-based and school-based matches

Sourk, M., Weiler, L. M., Cavell, T. A. (2019). Risk, support, and reasons for wanting a mentor: Comparing parents of youth in community versus school-based matches. Child and Youth Services Review. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2019.01.046

Summarized by Karina DeAndrade

Notes of Interest: The purpose of this study was to understand the why parents wanted their kids to have a mentor, and whether there are differences in these motivations between community-based mentoring (CBM) or school-based mentoring (SBM) programs. Data was collected 131 parents through an online survey. Findings suggest there are various reasons for parents wanting a mentor for their child, including wanting their child to have academic help and wanting to have someone to show their child things that the parents themselves don’t have time to. Findings suggest that CBM and SBM parents share more similarities than differences, but the divergence that does exist have implications on youth mentoring programs.


Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

We explored differences between parents/guardians of youth participating in community- (CBM) versus school-based (SBM) mentoring programs sponsored by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada (BBBS-Canada). Assessed were demographic differences as well as perceptions of risk, support, and reasons for wanting a mentor. Participating were 131 parents of youth in CBM (n = 79) or SBM (n = 52) matches recruited with assistance from BBBS agencies. All data were gathered via an online survey. Compared to SBM parents, parents of youth in CBM matches were less likely to be married and were living in homes with fewer adults and fewer children. However, CBM and SBM parents did not differ on ratings of family risk or social support. For CBM parents, a top reason for wanting a mentor was the desire for children to have new experiences; for SBM parents, top reasons included seeking academic support for children and because one of their children had a physical disability or mental illness. CBM and SBM parents in this study were more similar than distinct, but differences that emerged have potential implications for agencies’ efforts to involve parents in youth mentoring programs.


Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

We found considerable overlap in the demographic characteristics of CBM and SBM parents: Most were Caucasian mothers currently employed with at least some college or university education. We also found important differences. Compared to SBM parents, CBM parents were more likely to be unmarried and to be the only caregiver in the home. Also, CBM parents were more likely to have an only child and less likely to have multiple children compared to SBM parents. Researchers have previously examined the relation between parents’ marital status and youth mentoring outcomes (Dubois et al., 2002, 2011), but this is the first study to examine whether parent or family demographics were linked to differential program enrollment. It makes sense that single parents with limited adult support in the home might be more inclined to seek a mentor for their child compared to parents who are married and living with other, potential caregivers. This pattern also fits BBBS’ history of focusing somewhat exclusively on single parent homes in order to help youth who were thought to lack a positive adult role model (Styles & Morrow, 1992). A specific focus on children of single parents is no longer BBBS policy but it might have left a lasting impression among parents and other caregivers about the families best suited for BBBS mentoring. For example, Spencer and colleagues (Spencer et al., 2016) found that parents from active-duty U.S. military families tended to dismiss the fit of formal mentoring for their children; these parents viewed BBBS as serving primarily youth who lived in single-parent homes and were showing signs of significant developmental risk.

We found both similarities and differences in parents’ reasons for wanting a mentor for their children. The reason endorsed most often (> 60%) by both groups of parents was that a mentor would be a positive role model in their child’s life. SBM parents were significantly more likely to endorse “To help my child academically” and “One of my children has a physical disability or a mental illness” compared to CBM parents. Both reasons speak to the academic context of SBM. CBM parents were significantly more likely to endorse “I wanted someone who could take my children places and show them things that I couldn’t”, a finding that is in accord with our finding that CBM parents were more often single compared to SBM parents. Thus, CBM and SBM parents endorsed similar reasons for wanting a mentor, and the differences that arose appear to reflect specific program features or differences in family demographics.


To access this article, click here