This research investigated the reach and effectiveness of Great Life Mentoring (GLM), a program for youth receiving outpatient mental health services in which community volunteers are paired with participating youth in one-to-one mentoring relationships.
Study participants included 91 youth served by GLM over an approximately 15-year period and a randomly selected sample of 400 youth who received mental health care from the same agency but did not participate in GLM. Although youth involved in GLM were similar to their peers on most assessed characteristics, they also differed in some ways at initiation of treatment services. For example, GLM-served youth were younger, more likely to be from a very-low-income family, and more likely to have a primary diagnosis of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and a secondary diagnosis. The average duration of the mentoring relationships established for the 91 GLM youth, including both those that had ended and those that were still ongoing, was about three years (M = 35.49 months), with only a small percentage (7.7%) having ended in less than one year. Longer-term mentoring relationships were predicted by being from a low-income family (rather than a very-low-income family), having a mentor with a higher education level, and not having a primary diagnosis of ADHD. When comparing change over time on clinician-ratings on the Children’s Global Assessment of Functioning for propensity-score-matched groups of GLM (n = 66) and non-GLM (n = 66) youth, the GLM youth showed significantly more favorable change than their matched counterparts after the point in time at which they were paired with a mentor through the program. Relative to their matched counterparts, GLM youth also were less likely to have an unplanned and client-initiated ending of treatment (33.9% vs. 56.3%) and more likely to have a planned ending of treatment (32.3% vs. 18.8%).
The approach of adding volunteer-based, programmatically-supported mentoring to mental health care services can be an effective way to keep youth in services and to strengthen the mental health benefits of those services
These considerations suggest that the GLM program may have been reaching those youth who stood to gain the most from their involvement.
Future studies should advance understanding of GLM’s capacity to be of benefit to youth in each of these specific areas. Studies that follow youth after the end of treatment would be valuable for understanding whether and how benefits are sustained over longer periods of time. These types of investigations would help to clarify the potential value of GLM as an after-care support for youth exiting formal mental health care as well as potential contributions to improved negotiation of developmental transitions such as those occurring in later adolescence and early adulthood.
Moreover, the size of the study’s sample was fairly small, preventing tests for possible subgroup differences in change over time in functioning or in reasons for ending mental health treatment. These types of analyses will be needed to clarify a number of important issues, such as whether specific subgroups of youth benefit more from the program and thus are especially good candidates for program involvement.
Furthermore, a randomized controlled trial will be needed to adequately address this area of concern. Incorporating a mixed-method approach into such a trial could also be valuable for gaining greater insight into a range of important issues that were not addressed in the present research, such as the factors that influence referral to a program such as GLM within a mental health treatment context as well as the development of mentoring relationships over time.
Finally, future studies also should be directed toward advancing understanding of mechanisms underlying the effects of GLM on youth outcomes. Other possible mechanisms worthy of investigation, more specific to the GLM program, include the role of mentors in supporting youths’ engagement in formal mental health services as well as their progress toward treatment goals.
DuBois, D. L., Herrera, C., & Higley, E. (2018). Investigation of the reach and effectiveness of a mentoring program for youth receiving outpatient mental health services. Children and Youth Services Review. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2018.05.0
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