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.

Selecting & Screening Mentors

Youth feel that good mentors have the following characteristics:
open; calm; supportive; patient; honest; authentic; approachable; uplifting and encouraging; non-judgmental; able to demonstrate tasks; and motivated to support their mentee even in times of trouble.

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


Screen prospective mentors to determine whether they have the time, commitment, and personal qualities to be a safe and effective mentor.1


  • Establish criteria for accepting and disqualifying mentor applicants. Stick to these criteria no matter how tempting it may be to make an exception (participant safety comes first).
  • Make prospective mentors complete a written application that includes questions designed to help assess their safety and suitability for mentoring a youth. This is also a key opportunity to gather information on their geographical location, availability, preferences, interests, hobbies, and skills that will help with matching.
  • Conduct at least one face-to-face interview with each prospective mentor to assess the candidate’s suitability for mentoring a youth.
  • Conduct a comprehensive criminal background check on prospective adult mentors, including searching a national criminal records database, along with sex offender and child abuse registries and, when relevant, driving records.
  • Conduct reference check interviews with multiple adults who know an applicant (ideally, both personal and professional references) that include questions to help assess their suitability for mentoring a youth.
  • Get prospective mentors to agree in writing to the minimum time commitment that is required by the mentoring program.
  • Get prospective mentors to agree in writing to participate in face-to-face meetings with their mentees at a minimum frequency and amount of hours that are required by their mentoring program.1

Other Findings

Volunteer-based youth mentoring is considered as a potentially “high-risk” context for the occurrence of abuse. While practices focused on security may feel intrusive to the applicant and time consuming to staff, they are critical in identifying potential hazards to the mentee’s safety.

You may wish to consider conducting at least one home visit of each prospective mentor, especially when the match may be meeting in the mentor’s home. If home meetings will occur, consider background checks on all adults living in the home of prospective mentors.

If you have a school-based program, assess the mentor’s interest in maintaining contact with their mentee during the summer months (following the close of the academic school year) and offer assistance to matches in maintaining contact as this typically requires more intensive supervision.

If you are recruiting adult mentors, prioritize accepting mentor applicants who are older than university- or college-age. Adult mentors who are out of school have been found to be more committed and reliable than students.

Consider using evidence-based screening tools and practices to identify individuals who have attitudes and beliefs that support safe and effective mentoring relationships.1

Apart from basic eligibility criteria, additional characteristics to consider when recruiting mentors are:

  • a high level of “social interest” – optimism, genuine desire to be helpful, and empathy;
  • character traits – for example, approachability, enthusiasm, commitment, availability, trustworthiness, maturity, communication skills, respect, and financial stability;
  • attunement – mentors should possess the quality of attunement, meaning the ability to anticipate a mentee’s needs in an empathetic manner;
  • school / work performance – there is no evidence indicating high achievers make better mentors. Instead, it’s important to look for consistent attendance, positive attitude and participation in other activities;
  • other commitments – consideration should be paid to a potential mentor’s schooling, extracurricular, work, or family responsibilities, which could limit their availability and thus may interfere with their ability to fully engage in the mentoring process
  • special skills – although not necessary, those with special skills (e.g., the ability to speak a second language) can be beneficial to your program.2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Only 5% of people who express interest in mentoring will go on to become mentors.7  Longer screening times can cause potential mentors, especially men, to lose interest in the program.4 Thus, make your selections in a timely manner.6

Key Tools & Resources

Generic Mentoring Program Policy & Procedure Manual:

Screening Out Inappropriate Volunteers: for Effectiveness_Workshop Binder.pdf

SAFE (Screening Applicants for Effectiveness): Guidelines to Prevent Child Molestation in Mentoring and Youth-Serving Organizations:

note: book for purchase

Tools to Structure Effective Program Operations

  1. MENTOR. (2015). Elements of effective practice for mentoring, 4th ed. Retrieved from
  2. Garringer, M., & MacRae, P. (2008). Building effective peer mentoring programs in schools: An introductory guide. Folsom, CA: Mentoring Resource Center. Retrieved from
  3. Rhodes, J. E., Liang, B., & Spencer, R. (2009). “First, do no harm”: A call for ethical guidelines in youth mentoring. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. 452-458.
  4. Satchwell, K. (2006). Mentoring literature review. Edmonton, AB: Alberta Children’s Services. Retrieved from
  5. Spencer, R. (2007). “It’s not what I expected”: A qualitative study of youth mentoring relationship failures. Journal of Adolescent Research, 22(4), 331-354.
  6. Vandenberghe, C. (2013). Mentoring: A review of the literature. Calgary, AB: Alberta Centre for Child, Family & Community Research for Alberta’s Promise. Retrieved from
  7. Delaney, M., Milne, C., Johansson, K., & Merlene, M. (2002). Mentoring for young offenders: Final report to the NSW Pilot Program. New South Wales: Crime Prevention Division Attorney General’s Department and Department of Juvenile Justice.
Funding provided by the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services