Toolkit on Effective Mentoring for Youth
Facing Barriers to Success

Best practices and resources to build, strengthen, evaluate and sustain effective mentoring programs for youth considered at high-risk of under education, unemployment, homelessness, criminalization, and other negative outcomes.

Developing A Healthy & Safe Mentoring Relationship

“If someone shows you that they could be vulnerable to you and when you see their vulnerability it kinda makes you open up a bit.” (YWCA Youth Consultation)


Adopt and communicate program policies and procedures that are relevant to developing a healthy mentoring relationship and to protecting the safety and wellbeing of the mentee, mentor, and family. Foster a healthy balance in terms of the involvement of the mentor and mentee in decision-making around processes, goals and activities.1, 2 


  • Develop policies and procedures that are clearly communicated to mentees, mentors and families. These policies and procedures should be based upon an assessment of the possible situations that may arise in the context of the mentoring relationship and should be regularly reviewed and updated.
  • Involve both mentees and mentors in discussions and decision-making around program processes, goals and activities. When mentors are dominant in decisions and activities, mentees may become disengaged and experience a loss of ownership. Conversely, if mentees are allowed to take sole control of decisions and activities, they can often come to a halt or lose focus.1, 2

“One thing [mentors] need to know is: what’s the difference when somebody’s looking for advice or just venting. Because sometimes you’re just trying to get stuff out, but you’re not trying to get any help. You just need someone to listen to that and other times, it’s like, ‘I’m telling you this because I want somebody to help me out’. So, sometimes it’s just good to know what the difference is.” (Covenant House Youth Consultation)

Other Findings

There are many program policies that are relevant to developing a healthy mentoring relationship and to protecting the safety and health of the mentee, mentor, and the mentee’s family. These include:

  • Child Protection policy
  • Transportation policy
  • Social Media Policy: clear boundaries and accepted/unaccepted uses of social media and other such technologies. Staff should be aware of and potentially involved in the use of social media between participants (i.e., program facilitated communication with staff present)3

Whether your program adopts an instrumental or developmental approach to the mentoring relationship, or a combination of the two (see p. 18), make sure matches have the time and freedom to form relationships by engaging each other in ways that are fun, creative, and unique to each participant. Structured activities are good, but too many can inhibit the development of the relationship in a more organic fashion.2

Karcher & Hansen found that when mentors advocate for the youth by acting on the youth’s behalf outside of the match (i.e. helping them seek out/resolve educational opportunities, recreation, etc.), the youth may improve more than when such efforts of advocacy do not occur.4

Key Tools & Resources

Generic Mentoring Program Policy & Procedure Manual:

Building Relationships: A Guide for New Mentors:

Webinar: Cultural and class conflicts in mentor-mentee matches (2015):

Little Big Activity App. Big Brother Big Sisters Mobile App:

Mentoring Activity Ideas:

Range of Issues & Communication in Crises:

Building Attachment:


Webinar: Strategies for mentoring youth affected by trauma:

Discovering the Possibilities: “C”ing Your Future. Guide of Activities for Post-Secondary / Career-Focused Mentoring:

What’s Next? Introduction to Post-Secondary Education Planning:

Mentoring Fact Sheet: Overcoming Relationship Pitfalls:

Mentoring Fact Sheet: Avoiding Early Match Termination:

Fact Sheet: Helping a Grieving Mentee:

Refer to Making the Grade for ideas of how to build a relationship with a mentee and activities for academic-focused mentoring (Cannata, Garringer, MacRae, & Wakeland, 2005)

Refer to Girls Group Mentoring Toolkit to find information about approaches and activities for mentoring programs for girls with special considerations (e.g., girls in rural and remote communities) (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2015, pp. 29-52)

  1. Garringer, M., & MacRae, P. (2008). Building effective peer mentoring programs in schools: An introductory guide. Folsom, CA: Mentoring Resource Center. Retrieved from
  2. MENTOR. (2015). Elements of effective practice for mentoring, 4th ed. Retrieved from
  3. Kremer, S. (Friends for Youth, Inc.) (2013). Blogs, tweets & friends: Effective mentoring in the age of social media. Retrieved from
  4. Karcher, M. J., & Hansen, K. (2014). Mentoring activities and interactions. In D. L. DuBois & M. J. Karcher (Eds.), Handbook of Youth Mentoring (pp. 63-82). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Funding provided by the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services