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.

Homeless Youth

“I don’t have a mentor who feels bad toward what’s going on in my life right now. All I want is a mentor that doesn’t judge at all. Let’s say I stay in a shelter and stuff. I don’t want him to feel bad for me cause I’m staying there. I just want him to like connect with and to have a good time with, to talk to and stuff when I’m confused.” (Covenant House Youth Consultation)


Key Lessons

  • There is less information available on effective mentoring for homeless youth. This is a gap in our current understanding of mentoring youth facing barriers to success.
  • Long-term mentoring relationships may be difficult for homeless youth due to transient life experiences.1
  • Flexibility is key when mentoring street involved youth as challenges and crises may emerge at various times.4
  • Programs should establish end dates at the beginning of the program to help youth understand the parameters of the program and reduce feelings of abandonment that may emerge when the match closes.7
  • Natural mentoring may be a promising strategy for mentoring homeless youth as it can be more adaptable and result in similarly positive outcomes.3

Existing Toolkits & Resources

Mentoring and befriending for young homeless people: A good practice guide:


Effective Mentoring for Homeless Youth


Standards & Good Practices

(linked to positive outcomes for participants)

Other Pertinent Info

(including trends & stats)

Program Planning

Working with community partners (including homeless youth) to plan and set objectives for a mentoring program with homeless youth can enhance outcomes.4, 5, 7

Confidentiality and privacy policies should be established and shared with mentors and mentees before beginning the mentoring relationships.4, 8

Specific needs and vulnerabilities of homeless youth should be considered when planning and implementing mentoring programs.4

Homeless youth may be less likely to have natural mentors due to the conflicts that lead to leaving home. Since natural mentoring can have many positive outcomes, natural mentoring is a promising model for homeless youth. Additionally, natural mentoring may be more appropriate for this population as it does not have formal meetings times and occurs more fluidly.3

Program Implementation

Adaptability in program implementation is key for responding to challenges and crises that emerge.4

It can be helpful to consistently use informal feedback from mentees to assess and update the program.4

Homeless children are more likely to:

  • Move frequently
  • Experience school disruption
  • Witness violence in the home
  • Struggle with mental health issues (e.g., depression and anxiety)
  • Be separated from family members
  • Have physical health problems

Mentoring can support children with these issues by providing consistent and caring role modeling during transient and stressful life circumstances.2, 5

Results from mentoring interventions are conflicting:

  • One program found that homeless youth in their mentoring program felt they had developed a significant relationship through the program.
  • Another study found homeless mentees had decreased feelings of loneliness and stress and increased sense of equality, self esteem, and enhanced coping skills.
  • Natural mentoring was found to have significant effects on reducing risky sexual behaviours, but not in other areas of physical and mental health.2, 3, 4, 6

Perhaps mixed results are related to the fact that mentoring is most effective when it occurs for a year or more and street-involved youth are more transient and may not be able to sustain mentoring long-term.1

Mentor Training

Helping mentors understand power and privilege and learn how to treat their mentees as equals is important for reducing power imbalances. Conversely, some people found that power imbalances (where a mentor had control in certain situations and could use that to support the mentee) can help mentees feel safe and protected.4

Matching Process

One program allowed mentees to select their mentors after participating in a Meet and Greet session to ensure the match would be appropriate for that young person.9

Mentoring Relationship Development

One program required mentors to contact their mentees once a week and meet in-person twice per month to ensure consistency and limit early termination.8

Emphasizing self-determination and personal goal setting is important for reducing power imbalances that exist between adults and youth, especially those that are marginalized.4

Mentors should inquire about the needs of mentees ongoing and alter interventions to support them as best as possible.4

One program found success by providing stipends for homeless youth participants as this supported their basic needs (food, shelter, clothing) as outlined by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.4

Match Supervision, Support & Retention

Program staff should connect with mentors and mentees regularly to monitor progress and support in times of challenges.8

Match Closure & Re-Matching

To ensure mentees do not feel abandoned, a concern that may be more relevant for homeless youth, there should be end dates for the mentoring established at the beginning of the program.7

At Covenant House, if a mentor resigns from the program they must inform the program staff and their mentee of the decision. They will also engage in an exit interview with the mentor.8

Celebration & Recognition

Covenant House recognizes mentor service annually and provides thank you cards to the mentors8



  1. Karabanow, J., & Clement, P. (2004). Interventions with street youth: A commentary on the practice-based research literature. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 4(1), 93-108.
  2. Bartle-Haring, S., Slesnick, N., Collins, J., Erdem, G., & Buettner, C. (2012). The utility of mentoring homeless adolescents: A pilot study. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 38(4), 350-358.
  3. Dang, M. T., Conger, K. J., Breslau, J., & Miller, E. (2014). Exploring protective factors among homeless youth: The role of natural mentors. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 45(3), 1121-1138.
  4. Greenlee, J., Henson, A., Jones, L., Vance, M. F., & Wilson, P. (2013). Developing a mentor program for unaccompanied homeless youth. School of Social Work Community Projects. Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA.
  5. Mitchell, J. L. (2011). Mentoring: Combating vulnerabilities of homeless children. Florida Public Health Review, 8, 66-67.
  6. Stewart, M., Reutter, L., & Letourneau, N. (2007). Support intervention for homeless youths. Canadian Journal Of Nursing Research, 39(3), 203-207.
  7. Cullen, S. (2006). Mentoring and befriending for young homeless people: A good practice guide. Shelter. Retrieved from
  8. Covenant House. (n.d. a). Covenant House mentor orientation handbook. Retrieved from
  9. Covenant House. (n.d. b). Mentor guidelines. Retrieved from,d.cGc
Funding provided by the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services