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.

Underlying Frameworks & Foundations For Mentoring Youth

Prevention Science

Prevention science is based on the central idea that people may have risk factors that can lead to negative outcomes. If risk factors are addressed and protective factors are enhanced, mental health issues and problem behaviours can be prevented.1, 2

Mentoring is justified as a prevention strategy based on social control theory by suggesting that when people build meaningful connections with mentors, they gain protective factors and limit risk factors. Some have argued that mentoring is only effective as a context for other types of interventions, where positive relationships provide a good environment for targeting other specific ‘risk’ behaviours. Proponents suggest that it is important to design the program around specific risk and protective factors and include research as a component to help enhance the justification for future prevention-based mentoring programs.1

Prevention Science as outlined by Cavell and Elledge requires the following steps:

  • A theoretical justification of the cause (risk factor) and effect (development of protective factors/ reduced risk factors);
  • Addressing how the intervention will target the specified risk and protective factors to lead to the desired outcome;
  • A strategy for determining the most appropriate target population;
  • Implementing the program before the risk factors influence more negative outcomes for individuals, so that they can have a meaningful impact; and
  • Targeting general risk and protective factors to achieve more positive outcomes with different people.1

Positive Youth Development

Positive Youth Development theory puts forth that because young people have greater capacity to change their behaviours and mental health than adults, they have an enhanced ability to build skills to be successful.3, 4 Positive Youth Development takes into account the assets people have and ones they can develop to enhance lifelong outcomes.

Mentoring programs that are successfully oriented to the Positive Youth Development framework utilize the “Big 3” features of youth development to design their programs. These features entail helping youth to:

  • Create a relationship with a positive and consistent adult,
  • Learn life skills, and
  • Participate and lead in their communities.3

Resiliency Initiatives identified the following traits, which contribute to the positive development of children and youth:

  • Building and maintaining social relationships
  • Coping with stress
  • Problem solving
  • Being responsible for oneself and as part of a team
  • Having and acting with a set of values
  • Setting goals and having confidence about the future
  • Developing and practicing emotional intelligence
  • Being motivated and having perseverance
  • Defining a passion or interests
  • Having spiritual connection and awareness5

As outlined by Lerner, Brittain, and Fay, mentors can actively support positive youth development for their mentees by focusing on the 6 C’s:

  1. Competence – Mentors help youth discover their skills, understand how their skills can be transferable, and support them in learning from their mistakes.
  2. Confidence – It is important for mentees to build a network of support and skills to solve problems in their own lives. Mentors can assist by providing mentees referrals to other agencies and by helping role model problem solving personal challenges.
  3. Connection – Mentors should respect their mentees’ privacy and help them connect and feel heard in the community.
  4. Character – By role modeling appropriate actions, allowing youth to make their own decisions, and explaining why certain actions are appropriate or inappropriate mentors can help mentees develop character.
  5. Caring – Even during difficult times, mentors should show sincere compassion for their mentees and also help them learn the benefit of caring for others.
  6. Contribution – Once youth have developed the first five C’s, they may have the capacity to help others. Mentors should encourage mentees to give back to their communities when they are ready.3

The Search Institute utilized the assets above and the developmental stages of children and youth to create a research-base tool called the 40 Developmental Assets.6, 7 This can be used by adult supporters or youth themselves to identify positive qualities, areas of strength and gaps in order to help guide future directions and interventions.

Key Resources on Positive Youth Development
40 Developmental Assets for Youth (ages 12-18):

Developmental Relationships Framework:

 “It’s like a mutual relationship. So, like, you get advice from her, that doesn’t mean you can’t give them advice.” (Covenant House Youth Consultation)

Strength-Based Approaches

A strength-based approach focuses on identifying and building a youth’s strengths, as opposed to the common approach of viewing young people as being problems that need to be solved.8 The strength-based approach views problems as separate from the person. When people are viewed as capable, they are able to draw on current assets and learn new skills to manage their own wellbeing in sustainable ways.8, 9 Taken another way, a strength-based approach can help people feel hopeful and develop resiliency in the face of obstacles.9, 10

A strength-based approach aligns well with mentoring when intentionally applied to all work of the program. Mentoring staff and mentors can apply a strength-based approach by:

  • Actively listening and engaging mentees in a feedback loop;
  • Adapting activities to suit mentees needs;
  • Approaching challenges with a positive lens; and
  • Training and supporting mentors.10, 11, 12

A strength-based approach positions supporters as partners rather than professionals, who utilize genuine support to act as “facilitators of change” in partnership with the individual.8

Both mentor and mentee should view the relationship as one that provides reciprocal benefits, allowing people to recognize and value each others’ inherent power for self-determination (Big Brothers Big Sisters of Fraser Valley, n.d.). The mentor role is to guide mentees, while also allowing the mentees opportunities to learn from experiences of challenge and vulnerability in their own lives.10, 13

“Those who embrace the strength-based approach have the privilege of walking along side those they are working with in supporting the exploration, realization, and expression of ‘greatness’”(p. 20).11

Strength-Based Versus Deficit-Based Approaches

Strength-Based Versus Deficit-Based Approaches14

The following principles can support any organization or program in utilizing a strength-based approach:

  • Belief in a person’s abilities to affect change in their own lives.
  • Belief that challenges are inevitable and can help people build strengths.
  • Language can alter people’s perceptions of situations and create realities.
  • Authentic and unconditional relationships are the crux of helping people build capacity.
  • People are experts in their own lives.
  • Supporting people to work toward self-determined goals can help them build confidence.
  • Personal development is an ongoing process.
  • Difference makes us stronger and can help people develop effective communities of support.
Key Resources on Strength-Based Approaches
Strength-Based Community Mentoring Workbook:

Strength-Based Mentoring: A Practice Guide for Mentors:

Community Resiliency Initiatives:

Strength-Based Mentoring: Nurturing the social capacity of children and youth to thrive:

  1. Cavell, T. A., & Elledge, L. C. (2014). Mentoring and prevention science. In D. L. DuBois & M. J. Karcher (Eds.), Handbook of Youth Mentoring (pp. 29-43). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

  2. Keller, A. (2007). Youth mentoring: Theoretical and methodological issues. In T. Allen & L. Eby (Eds.), The Blackwell Handbook of Mentoring: A Multiple Perspectives Approach (pp. 23-47). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
  3. Lerner, R. M., Brittian, A. S., & Fay, K. E. (2007). Mentoring: A key resource for promoting positive youth development. MENTOR/ National Mentoring Partnership.
  4. Lerner, R. M., Napolitano, C. M., Boyd, M. J., Mueller, M. K., & Callina, K. S. (2014). Mentoring and positive youth development. In D. L. DuBois & M. J. Karcher (Eds.), Handbook of Youth Mentoring (pp. 17-29). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
  5. Resiliency Initiatives. (2012). Core character competencies and positive youth development. Resiliency Initiatives
  6. Search Institute. (2000). Developmental Assets Framework. Retrieved from
  7. Hammond, W., & Zimmerman, R. (2012). A strengths-based perspective. Resiliency Initiatives
  8. Cox, K. (2008). Tools for building on youth strengths. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 16(4), 19-24.
  9. Alberta Mentoring Partnership. (2010d). Strength-based mentoring: A practice guide for mentors. Province of Alberta.
  10. Alberta Mentoring Partnership. (2010b). Strength-based community mentoring: A practice guide for organizations. Province of Alberta. Retrieved from
  11. Alberta Mentoring Partnership. (2010c). Strength-based community mentoring workbook. Province of Alberta. Retrieved from
  12. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Fraser Valley. (n.d.). Strengths-based mentoring: Nurturing children and youth to help them thrive! Big Brothers Big Sisters of Fraser Valley.
  13. Alberta Mentoring Partnership (2010a). Strength-based and deficit-based concepts – a comparison
Funding provided by the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services