Dam, L., Neels, S., de Winter, M., Branje, S., Wijsbroek, S., Hutschemaekers, G., Dekker, A., Sekreve, A., Zwaanswijk, M., Wissink, I. & Stams, G.J. (2018). Youth initiated mentors: Do they offer an alternative for out-of-home placement in youth care? British Journal of Social Work, 0, 1-17. DOI: 10.1093/bjsw/bcx092
Summarized by Justin Preston
In the Netherlands, professional care for youth with complex needs that may put them at risk for being removed from the home, separating them from their family, is a process which consistently lacks consistency. These disturbances often lead to the youth searching for ‘arenas of comfort’, which may be a physical space or even a relationship, where the youth can feel accepted. These arenas can provide a space for youth to cope with changes and stressors in other facets of their lives.
While many youth services seek to provide a stable case worker to at-risk children, the researchers in the present study sought instead to leverage the youth’s existing social network to identify an informal mentor. Such mentors are typically relatives, neighbors, or even friends. These mentors are nominated by the youth themselves, in an approach entitled “Youth Initiated Mentoring” (YIM).
The social support provided by the YIM can have a host of benefits for the youth. Generally speaking, social support has been linked with a range of positive social, physical, and mental health outcomes. Individuals with social support tend to cope more effectively with stress, for example. At a stage where the parent-adolescent relationship is changing, with the youth potentially seeking greater autonomy, often focusing more on peer relationships.
The YIM approach is “a systemic treatment approach in which access, mobilisation, and consultation of informal mentors” is a key aspect of the treatment plan for at-risk youth. This approach is characterized by four phases, covering six to nine months:
1: Who? – Which member of the social network can become the YIM? Youth care professionals work with the youth to identify an individual from a space and relationship they trust which the youth would like to serve as their YIM. Once nominated, the youth care workers brief the potential YIM on the responsibilities, privacy rules, the type of support they will provide.
2: What? – What is everyone’s perspective on the current situation? This phase integrates feedback from both the youth, YIM, parents on the individual, family, and systemic problems experienced by the youth. Through this process, potential solutions are developed.
3: How? – What role will each individual in this constellation of professionals, YIM, youth, and family play in supporting the youth’s care plan?
4: Adaptability – This phase is focused on determining the flexibility of the constellation of care in facing future challenges that may arise.
The present study uses data from six organizations where the YIM approach was developed to determine whether the YIM model is feasible in providing care to youths who would otherwise be placed in residential treatment out of the home. The authors wanted to identify whether youths were able to identify someone from their network as a YIM as well as what differences arose between youth receiving YIM support and those who received residential care (the “treatment as usual” condition).
The present study utilized case file analyses of 200 youths, split almost evenly between YIM (N=96) and treatment-as-usual (N=104). Almost two thirds of the participants were male (63.5%), and ages ranged from 11-19 years of age, with an average age of 15.4 years (SD= 1.81). The treatment-as-usual group was selected randomly by the researchers from their files of children who received treatment between January and December 2012. Due to ongoing treatment, 18 youths in the YIM condition were not included in all analyses.
Descriptive information was collected on the participants. The authors also assessed the level of youth problems and their severity through their psycho-social functioning, physical health, cognitive development, family status, and social environment.
Chi-square analysis was used to determine whether there were differences between the two groups in the study.
Of the 78 youths assessed in the YIM condition, 65 (83%) were able to nominate a YIM within an average of 33 days. Of those, 28 nominated a family member (43%), eleven selected a friend (17%), eight a friend of their parents (12%), seven an acquaintance (11%), and three a neighbor (5%). Eight youths selected another person, such as a coach or a teacher.
Of the 70 families who received ambulatory care instead of residential treatment out of the home, only eight reached a point where out-of-home placement was necessary.
Discussion and Conclusion
The present study speaks to the potential of YIM in serving youths who may otherwise need to spend time in residential treatment for social problems. While the five weeks it took the average participant to identify a YIM, put into context, with rapport already a factor, this is a relatively short amount of time. The YIM organizational structure is also much more streamlined than typical residential care. This reduces the burden on the youth services system as well as the family.
While the YIM approach in this context does not replace the need for residential treatment, as the eight participants who required residential treatment during the course of the intervention demonstrate, it can greatly reduce the reliance on such measures. In times of shrinking budgets, this may serve as a welcome addition to the provision of care for youths facing difficulties.
To access the original article, which includes more information on the different participant groups, click here.