Grace Growdy, Sean Hogan
Informal mentoring, naturally-occurring caring relationship with a non-parental adult, has been shown to promote positive outcomes for young people, including youth transitioning out of the foster care system. Although we often talk about mentoring as one homogenous experience, recent research has demonstrated there are important variations in who mentors are and what supports they offer. Using survey data provided on youths’ social networks, this study identified 378 informal mentoring relationships provided to 113 former and current foster youth preparing to enter a four-year university. Cluster analysis identified two primary types of mentoring relationships in accordance with previous literature: core and capital mentoring. Following the cluster analysis, type of mentoring relationship was examined across various types of support (instrumental, informational, and emotional support). Findings indicated core mentoring relationships were more predominantly associated with instrumental support, while capital mentoring related more closely with informational support. There were no significant differences between mentoring type and emotional support or youth-rated closeness to mentor. The implications for facilitating socio-emotional support for foster youth are discussed.
A Positive Guiding Hand: A Qualitative Examination of Youth-Initiated Mentoring and the Promotion of Interdependence Among Foster Care Youth
Renée Spencer, Alison L. Drew, Grace Gowdy, John Paul Horn
This qualitative interview study examined experiences of youth-initiated mentoring relationships (YIM) among youth transitioning out of the foster care system. YIM is an innovative approach wherein programs work with youth to identify adults within their existing social networks to serve as their mentors in the formal program. Participants were 13 mentor-youth dyads involved in a pilot trial of YIM in a mid-western city. Youth and mentors completed one-time, in-depth individual interviews. Narrative thematic analysis of the interview data yielded the following major findings: (a) youth overwhelmingly reported having a strong or very strong relationship with their mentor, (b) these relationships offered a number of forms of social support to the youth (i.e., appraisal, companionship, emotional, informational, and instrumental), and (c) the mentor was perceived to have positively impacted the youth during the course of the relationship in multiple ways, including the youth’s psychological well-being, relationships with others, and beliefs about and orientation toward the future. These findings suggest that YIM is a promising approach for establishing meaningful and impactful connections that may promote interdependence for older foster care youth as they make the transition to adulthood.
“Who Knows Me the Best and Can Encourage Me the Most?”: Matching and Early Relationship Development in Youth-Initiated Mentoring Relationships with System-Involved Youth
Renée Spencer, Grace Gowdy, Alison L. Drew, Jean E. Rhodes
Youth-initiated mentoring (YIM), in which youth select adults from within their communities to serve as mentors in relationships that are formalized through mentoring programs, has the potential to redress problems faced by many mentoring programs that could adversely affect system-involved youth, such as volunteer attrition and premature match closures. However, only a few programs have implemented YIM, and there is little research on this approach. This qualitative interview study examines the formation of YIM relationships and how they are experienced by mentors (n = 14), youth (n = 17), and the youths’ parent/guardian (n = 6). Youth tended to select adults whom they had encountered through school or social services. Findings indicate that the YIM selection process contributed to mentor, youth, and parent/guardian investment in the mentoring relationship and to the youth’s rapid development of feelings of closeness and trust in the mentor. Knowing that mentors would be nonjudgmental, trustworthy, and dedicated appeared to facilitate positive relationship development, which is important given the difficulty of engaging and serving system-involved youth in mentoring programs.
Development, Feasibility, and Piloting of a Novel Natural Mentoring Intervention for Older Youth in Foster Care
Johanna K. P. Greeson, Allison E. Thompson
Aging out of foster care is associated with deleterious emerging adulthood outcomes. The enduring presence of a caring adult, such as a natural mentor, can improve outcomes for emancipating foster youth. Caring Adults ‘R’ Everywhere (C.A.R.E.) is a novel, child welfare-based intervention designed to facilitate natural mentor relationships among aging-out youth. Our aims were to test the feasibility of implementing C.A.R.E. and the feasibility of conducting a randomized controlled study with older foster youth. Twenty-four foster youth aged 18–20.5 years were recruited and randomly assigned to the intervention (n D 12) or control groups (n D 12). Ten natural mentors were identified and contacted for participation in the intervention and study. Process-oriented qualitative data and quantitative pre- and postintervention outcome data were collected and analyzed. Utilizing a controlled rigorous design, the findings highlight the positive experience of both the intervention youth and their natural mentors with C.A.R.E. Overall, results support the continued refinement, delivery, and rigorous testing of C.A.R.E. with great promise for programmatically supporting natural mentor relationships among youth aging out of foster care.
Allison E. Thompson, Johanna K. P. Greeson
Objective: Research suggests that the presence of natural mentors may ameliorate the risk associated with emancipating from foster care, though only half of foster youth have natural mentors. This study investigated the extent to which involvement in prosocial activities is associated with natural mentoring among youth at risk of emancipation.
Method: Using data from the Multi-Site Evaluation of Foster Youth Programs, we applied multinomial logistic regression to test the association between involvement in prosocial activities and natural mentoring among 720 foster youths, ages 14–17, who were at risk of emancipation.
Results: Controlling for demographic and child-welfare characteristics, foster-youth participation in hobbies/activities decreased the likelihood of having no natural mentors and no supportive adults by 57%, having only formal mentors by 60%, and having only foster parents by 49%. Participation in organizations/clubs decreased the likelihood of having no natural mentors and no supportive adults by 42%, and having only foster parents by 42%. Participation in religious services decreased the likelihood of having no natural mentors and no supportive adults by 43%, and having only foster parents by 37%.
Conclusion: This study contributes to our understanding of modifiable environmental factors that policymakers and practitioners may promote to facilitate natural mentoring relationships among foster youth at risk of emancipation.
Based on a panel survey of 683 foster youth, the current study examined the respective relationships between the characteristics of former foster youth and various attributes of natural mentoring relationships, including the (1) likelihood that youth have a natural mentor, (2) relationship role (e.g., family member, non-family acquaintance) of mentors vis-à-vis youth, (3) frequency of contact between youth and natural mentors, and (4) emotional closeness of the youth-mentor relationship. Study results suggest that a combination of factors, including youths’ social-emotional competencies and participation in social institutions (e.g., religious or service organizations) play very different roles in the development and maintenance of positive natural mentoring relationships. Collectively, the findings suggest several potentially important implications for foster youth and natural mentoring policy, practice, and research.
Johanna K. P. Greeson, Lindsey M. Weiler, Allison E. Thompson, Heather N. Taussig
This study describes natural mentoring among preadolescent children placed in out-of-home care and examines the association between natural mentoring and demographic, maltreatment, placement, and psychosocial characteristics. Cross-sectional data from a sample of 263 children and their out-of-home caregivers were analyzed. Caregivers rated children’s social skills, and children reported on their perceived opportunities and attachment to peers and adults, including natural mentors. About half the sample endorsed having natural mentors, with school personnel being the most common type of mentor. Children with natural mentors were older, more likely to be living in congregate care, and had stronger attachment to friends. Marginally significant findings suggested that children with natural mentors had been in out-of-home care for fewer months, and children who were sexually abused were less likely to have natural mentors with whom they had current contact. Future research is needed that examines the longitudinal course of natural mentoring among this population.
Allison E. Thompson, Johanna K. P. Greeson, Ashleigh M. Brunsink
Due to their histories of caregiver maltreatment, living instability, and potential attachment challenges associated with out-of-home care, older foster youth represent a particularly vulnerable group of adolescents at increased risk for a number of poor well-being outcomes. However, research supports the notion that a relationship with a competent, caring adult, such as a mentor, may serve protectively for vulnerable youth, and a nascent yet growing body of literature suggests that naturally occurring mentoring relationships from within youth’s social networks are associated with improved outcomes among young people in foster care during adolescence and the transition to adulthood. This systematic review is the first to comprehensively identify, synthesize, and summarize what we currently know from nearly a decade of theories, concepts, and research findings pertaining to natural mentoring among adolescent youth in foster care. A bibliographic search of seven databases and personal outreach to mentoring researchers and practitioners through a national listserv yielded 38 English-language documents from academic sources and the gray literature pertaining to natural mentoring among older foster youth. We identified quantitative studies that have been conducted to test the theories and hypotheses that have emerged from the qualitative studies of natural mentoring among youth in foster care. Together, this literature suggests that natural mentoring is a promising practice for youth in foster care. Based on our findings from the systematic review, we make practice recommendations to encourage the facilitation of natural mentoring within child welfare contexts and outline an agenda for future research that more rigorously investigates natural mentoring among older youth in foster care.
Child Welfare Professionals’ Attitudes and Beliefs About Child-Welfare Based Natural Mentoring for Older Youth In Foster Care
Johanna K. P. Greeson, Allison E. Thompson, Michelle Evans-Chase, Samira Ali
This qualitative study is the first to explore child welfare professionals’ attitudes and beliefs about implementing natural mentoring as a promising way to smooth the road to independence for older foster youth. The term “natural mentor” refers to a nonparental, caring adult whom a youth identifies in his/her existing social network (e.g., teachers, coaches, adult relatives). Five focus groups were conducted with 20 child welfare professionals from a Department of Human Services (DHS) located in a large urban city in the Northeastern United States. This study used the exploration, preparation, implementation, and sustainment (EPIS) framework to explicate the organizational challenges and opportunities related to the implementation of a child welfare-based natural mentoring intervention. The following significant themes emerged related to natural mentoring for older foster youth emancipating from care: a) the strengths and gaps of DHS service, b) the importance of youth perspective, c) the appropriate vetting of supportive adults as natural mentors, d) the benefits of natural mentoring, and e) the relevance of DHS’s climate and culture for implementation. Future studies are needed to build upon these initial findings to better understand the organizational contexts in which natural mentoring can be implemented for older foster youth preparing for emancipation.
It’s Good to Know That You Got Somebody That’s Not Going Anywhere: Attitudes and Beliefs of Older Youth in Foster Care About Child Welfare-Based Natural Mentoring
Johanna K. P. Greeson, Allison E. Thompson, Samira Ali, Rebecca Stern Wenger
This exploratory study is the first to investigate the attitudes and beliefs of older adolescents in foster care toward the implementation of a child welfare-based natural mentoring intervention designed to promote enduring, growth-fostering relationships between youth at risk of emancipation and caring, supportive nonparental adults from within the youth’s existing social network. Six focus groups were conducted with 17 older youth in foster care attending a specialized charter high school for young people in out-of-home care in a large, urban city in the Northeast United States. Focus group data were transcribed and analyzed using a conventional content analysis approach. The following significant themes emerged related to natural mentoring for older foster youth emancipating from care: (1) need for permanent relationships with caring adults, (2) youth conceptions of natural mentoring, (3) unique challenges related to natural mentoring for youth in foster care, (4) role of a natural mentoring intervention in child welfare, and (5) challenges for implementing a child welfare-based natural mentoring intervention. Overall, our findings suggest that these young people are cautiously optimistic about the potential of a child welfare-based natural mentoring intervention to promote their social and emotional wellbeing. Future studies are needed to better understand the experiences of older foster youth with an actual natural mentoring intervention, including challenges, opportunities, and outcomes.
Kym R. Ahrens, David Lane DuBois, Laura P. Richardson, Ming-Yu Fan, Paula Lozano
Objective: The goal of this study was to determine whether youth in foster care with natural mentors during adolescence have improved young adult outcomes.
Methods: We used data from waves I to III of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (1994-2002). Individuals who reported that they had ever been in foster care at wave III were included. Youth were considered mentored when they reported the presence of a nonparental adult mentor in their life after they were 14 years of age and reported that the relationship began before 18 years of age and had lasted for at least 2 years. Outcomes were assessed at wave III and included measures of education/employment, psychological well-being, physical health, and participation in unhealthy behaviors as well as a summary measure representing the total number of positive outcomes.
Results: A total of 310 youth met the inclusion criteria; 160 youth were mentored, and 150 youth were nonmentored. Demographic characteristics were similar for mentored and nonmentored youth. Mentored youth were more likely to report favorable overall health and were less likely to report suicidal ideation, having received a diagnosis of a sexually transmitted infection, and having hurt someone in a fight in the past year. There was also a borderline significant trend toward more participation in higher education among mentored youth. On the summary measure, mentored youth had, on average, a significantly greater number of positive outcomes than nonmentored youth.
Conclusions: Mentoring relationships are associated with positive adjustment during the transition to adulthood for youth in foster care. Strategies to support natural mentoring relationships for this population should be developed and evaluated.
Although estimates are that only about half of youth mentoring relationships established through formal programs last beyond a few months, almost no attention has been paid to understanding mentoring relationship failures. In-depth semistructured interviews were conducted with 20 adult and 11 adolescent male and female participants in a community-based one-to-one mentoring program whose relationships ended early. Line-by-line coding and a narrative approach to a thematic analysis of the interview transcripts yielded six salient factors that contributed to the demise of these mentoring relationships: (a) mentor or protégé abandonment, (b) perceived lack of protégé motivation, (c) unfulfilled expectations, (d) deficiencies in mentor relational skills, including the inability to bridge cultural divides, (e) family interference, and (f) inadequate agency support.
Bernadine Brady, Pat Dolan, Caroline McGregor
Mentoring for Young People in Care and Leaving Care offers a rich exploration of the theory, research and practice to relating to youth mentoring as a means of essential social support. Brady, Dolan and McGregor ground their work on the premise that the informal social support provided through a high-quality mentoring relationship can help young people in care to sustain positive mental health, cope with stress and fulfill their potential through adolescence and into adulthood. It provides an up-to-date synthesis of research findings in relation to natural mentoring, formal mentoring and youth-initiated mentoring for children in care and explores the challenges and considerations related to practice in this area. Illustrated with the details of original research with care-experienced young people, it offers much-needed insight into how young people interpret and make sense of their experiences in care and of mentoring. Written to be accessible by those with limited knowledge of youth mentoring, this timely publication will be essential reading for academics, policy makers and practitioners in the fields of adolescent development, social care, social work and youth work.