YIM Mentors: What are the needs of youth & parents from multi-problem families?

Koper, N., Creemers, H. E., van Dam, L., Stams, G. J. J. M., & Branje, S. (2021). Needs of youth and parents from multi-problem families in the search for youth-initiated mentors. Youth & Society, 0044118X211058217. 


Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Although youth-initiated mentoring (YIM) is a viable approach to promoting a variety of positive outcomes in the context of youth mental health, not much is known about what qualities youth and their parents are looking for in a YIM mentor
    • This is especially relevant for multi-problem families who experience intergenerational &/or chronic issues.
  • This study explores a) what qualities youth and their parents from multi-problem families want in a mentor, b) what mentors think they can provide, and c) what mentor-perceived qualities align with what the mentee & their parents need.
  • Youth and their parents stated that trust and strong connection were two of the most important traits they needed from a YIM mentor.
    • Many of them also reported that they wanted a mentor who is a) attuned to their mentees’ needs, b) is understanding, and c) is empathetic.
    • A few participants said they wanted some structure (or rules) in their mentoring relationships.
  • Mentors wanted to support their mentees with achieving their goals.
  • Encouragement and other supportive experiences can help youth who have trouble receiving help.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Youth-initiated mentoring is an innovative youth care approach in which youth recruit supportive adults from their social networks as a mentor for youth and a partner for parents and professionals. This qualitative interview study documents what youth (n = 15) and parents (n = 13) from multi-problem families look for in a mentor, what mentors (n = 8) believe they have to offer, and whether what mentors believe to offer matches youth’s and parents’ needs. Youth and parents indicated that a strong connection and trust were most important, or even prerequisites, as youth who were unable to find mentors did not have strong relationships of trust. Youth and parents also voiced preferences for an understanding, sensitive mentor who offered youth perspective by providing support and advice and (according to some) setting rules. What mentors believed to offer matched youth’s and parents’ needs, suggesting that most youth successfully recruited suitable mentors.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Previous research examined the effects of natural mentoring relationships on youth development (e.g., van Dam et al., 2018) and explored the potential of YIM in treatment for vulnerable youth (Schwartz et al., 2013; van Dam et al., 2021). However, previous studies have not addressed the needs of youth and parents in YIM mentors, and if these needs match to what mentors offer. This interview study indicated that youth and parents from multi-problem families unanimously voiced their needs for a strong connection and trust in mentoring relationships. This study was unique by including the perspectives of families who had not positioned mentors, which showed that these youth and parents reported (almost) the same needs. Youth and parents preferred mentors that were sensitive to youth’s needs and helped them obtain a better future. Whereas only one youth and some parents with mentors mentioned the importance for mentors to provide discipline, rules and structure, mentors said to offer disciplining more often. Regarding the other themes, the needs of youth and parents and what mentors said to offer matched well.

Participants were fairly uniform in voicing favorable views on YIM, in line with our expectation, given that all had voluntarily enrolled in a treatment program including YIM. Yet, two youth without mentors indicated they did not want mentors to be involved, because they could not trust others and did not want to burden others, and because mentors are not as knowledgeable as professionals. Three more families indicated they wanted to position mentors, but that there was no suitable person, because youth had no strong relationships with trusting adults. Although the current study does not give insight in the number of youth with feelings of mistrust in the population of multi-problem families, it can be expected that many of them have experienced maltreatment and other adverse childhood experiences (Bodden & Deković, 2016), which can hinder the healthy development of trust (Geenen & Powers, 2007; Zegers et al., 2006). Nevertheless, the current and previous (van Dam et al., 2017) studies showed that most youth were capable of positioning mentors with the current support, suggesting that YIM may indeed be a promising tool in mental health care for youth of multi-problem families.

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