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.

Tailored Mentoring for Youth With Specific Needs

Youth consultation participants for this project noted certain times when they could have really benefited from having a mentor:

  • When my mother kicked me out at the age of 17 years old
  • When I was not doing so well in basketball
  • When I started to realize that not everybody I trusted was trustworthy
  • When I moved to a different school
  • When I got caught up with the law
  • When I lost someone really close to me
  • During my teen years when I was surrounded by bad influences
  • The first time I was in a shelter and had to leave home

(Covenant House, Youth Arts Action Group, and YWCA Youth Consultations)

Mentoring for youth should begin with the best practices mentioned in the previous section. It is equally important that the mentoring program is specifically designed for the individual and complex needs of each youth.1

The following sections gather existing knowledge on mentoring youth with specific characteristics and life experiences. Many youth facing multiple barriers to success embody a wide range of strengths and assets and young people may present with one or more of these specific considerations. Thus, the separation of the materials may be somewhat superficial, but it allows us to present the evidence in an organized way. It is important to consider the range and intersections of specific findings that may apply to the youth and the community you serve.

“The times in my life when I felt like I can use a mentor was when I was young and still growing into the man I am today. I knew I was different, but didn’t know I was good different. Quiet because I think about deep things that most people my age don’t think about. I had a different intellect, but didn’t have confidence in myself. Didn’t believe in myself because people reject what they don’t understand and I believed them. Today I know my worth and I would make a perfect mentor for my past self.” (Youth Arts Action Group Youth Consultation)

Due to the unique experiences, needs, and challenges of youth facing barriers to success, one recurring suggestion is to ensure cultural appropriateness of the programming. Mentoring interventions can emphasize cultural appropriateness by tailoring activities to the specific youth population.

“Sensitivity to other cultures refers to the awareness of how other ethnic, racial, and/or linguistic groups differ from one’s own. Sensitivity can be manifested through knowledge of different languages or manners of speech, norms, and mores, religious beliefs and practices, family structures and dynamics, community decision-making patterns, and class consciousness and socioeconomic realities.” 2

Given the scope of this review and the research available we were not able to cover every possible special population of youth (e.g., gang-involved youth and youth living in rural communities).

Explore the following populations for more information about understanding and supporting youth with particular needs through mentoring:



  1. MENTOR. (2015). Elements of effective practice for mentoring, 4th ed. Retrieved from
  2. Elder, J. P. (2002). “Cultural appropriateness”.  Encyclopedia of Public Health. The Gale Group Inc. Retrieved from
Funding provided by the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services