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.

Key Messages of the Toolkit

How effective is mentoring for youth who face barriers to success?

For young people in general, research shows that formal mentoring program models (community-based mentoring, group mentoring, and cross-age peer mentoring) that develop strong mentoring relationships over at least one year can yield positive effects for mentees. Studies show small, modest positive outcomes for youth in mentoring that are comparable to other similar, well-developed formal interventions with youth. These outcomes relate to positive academic, emotional, behavioural and social development. To be effective, a mentoring relationship must be strong, consistent, and last at least one year.

The evidence is less common, conclusive or definitive for the overall Youtheffectiveness of mentoring for youth deemed at higher-risk of negative life outcomes. The first large-scale, rigorous study of how varying youth ‘risk profiles’ affect a mentoring relationship and outcomes was conducted by Herrera, DuBois and Grossman in 2013. The study reveals that:

  • Mentoring can benefit youth with various ‘risk profiles’. Youth with different levels and types of ‘risk profiles’ had mentoring relationships that were similar in strength and in duration, and experienced similar positive benefits from participating in mentoring. However, there were somewhat stronger and more consistent benefits for youth who scored relatively high on individual risk factors (challenging attitudes and behaviours, academic struggles, significant health needs, involvement in the justice system) but not on environmental risk factors (e.g., poverty, unsafe housing, low parental support).
  • The challenges reported by mentors and the reasons matches ended prematurely differed in relation to the youth’s risk profile.

For more detailed information, go to the section on the effectiveness of mentoring for various sub-populations of youth.

How do we know if a young person is a ‘good fit’ for a mentoring program (including based on their level of ‘risk’)?

The most important factor is whether or not the young person is open to making a long-term commitment to form a relationship with a mentor. Research shows that young people who decide for themselves (‘self-select’) to participate in a mentoring program yield the most benefit. The young person must be open to trying to connect with a new person in their life.

Recent research suggests that mentoring programs may be less effective if they try to support youth who experience relatively high levels of individual risk factors (challenging attitudes and behaviours, academic struggles, significant health needs, involvement in the justice system),  AND environmental risk factors (e.g., poverty, unsafe housing, low parental support).

To be effective, a mentoring relationship must be strong, consistent, and last at least one year. It is important for service providers to consider whether an individual youth can commit to that within their current life circumstances.

How can we make our mentoring program the most effective and safe as possible?

There are a number of well established standards and best practices for planning and implementing an effective mentoring program. It is important to consult and consider Effective Mentoring Program Components and Implementation. These relate to everything from selecting, screening, and training participants, to successfully closing a match relationship.

What do we need to consider when providing mentoring opportunities for youth who face barriers to success?

There are additional considerations when mentoring youth who face barriers to success.

  • Facilitating transformative mentoring relationships

To be effective, the mentoring relationship must go beyond providing assistance with tasks and goals, and must take a more transformative mentoring approach.

  • Recognizing and addressing the dynamics of power and privilege

Youth facing multiple barriers to success may feel especially disempowered given their past life experiences. Rather than gloss over or ignore issues of power and privilege, it is important for service providers, mentors, and youth themselves to acknowledge the role that power and privilege plays in their lives and relationships.

  • Providing trauma-informed services

Youth facing multiple barriers to success may have experienced considerable trauma. Refer to the Trauma Informed Practice Guide for more information about recognizing and responding to trauma-related issues with youth. The Trauma Informed Care E-Learning Module describes trauma-informed care and the principles that guide this work.

  • Tailoring the program to meet the specific strengths and needs of youth

There are various considerations to keep in mind when mentoring youth with different life experiences. There are best practices for Tailored Mentoring for Youth with Specific Needs. There are also interactive activities that you can facilitate with program staff, mentors and mentees themselves to explore the unique strengths and needs of each youth. One of these activities is called Body Mapping.

What are the best practices in program management and sustainability planning?

Just like there are evidence-informed practices in program implementation, there are also a number of best practices in program management and sustainability planning. These include:

  • ensuring ongoing resource development and diversifying funding
  • building and maintaining effective partnerships
  • ensuring effective leadership and staff development
  • fostering community buy-in and participation
  • maximizing quality and evaluating results
  • prioritizing good communication and visibility

How can we build our capacity for program evaluation?

Service providers are increasingly being required to evaluate their programs. Organizations are increasingly becoming interested in evidence-informed management and services, as a way of maximizing their impact and demonstrating their results. This toolkit provides information on output monitoring, process evaluation, and outcome evaluation. By exploring the section on Program Evaluation, Learning & Improvement, you will learn strategies for developing your own evaluation for mentoring programs for youth facing multiple barriers to success.

Funding provided by the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services