How can we make sure that mentors, who are most often just regular folks volunteering their time, have the support they need to meet a child’s needs? And what are the implications when we follow the fervor before that infrastructure gets solidified?
How can our movement build a strong foundation stable funding, evidence-based practices, and skilled professionals to adequately support the deeply personal mentoring relationships that are so impactful to so many? How can we scale this good work responsibly?
These types of questions were percolating in my mind, and the minds of about 40 other mentoring researchers and practitioners, by the end of the 2016 Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring, held August 1-4 at Portland State University.
This annual event, organized by Dr. Tom Keller and sponsored in part by MENTOR, brings together experienced mentoring professionals, researchers, and policymakers each summer for presentations on emergent research and thoughtful discussions on how those findings will, or should, influence the mentoring field moving forward.
The topic for the 2016 event was “the ending of mentoring relationships” specifically focused on research that speaks to why matches end prematurely and how programs might prevent early endings from happening.
The institute also featured research on how to best facilitate match endings when they do occur. By the end of the week, it was clear to the group that the youth mentoring field should increasingly emphasize the support we give programmatic matches and develop and honor policies that ensure as many matches as possible end on a positive and healthy note.
Obviously, the youth mentoring field has long emphasized the support of the mentor-mentee matches in its program structures and staff roles. And recent years have seen practitioners adjusting their practices around match support and closure in response to compelling research showing that matches that terminated earlier than expected can lead to worse outcomes for youth than if they had never been matched in the first place (and can leave youth less likely to benefit from a new match).
But I walked away from the event with an invigorated sense of purpose and importance when it comes to how we support and ultimately end mentoring relationships. Simply put, the research suggests that far too many youth (as well as parents and mentors) are leaving our mentoring programs confused and hurt by the often abrupt ways that matches end.
This research also, thankfully, pointed to some paths forward that can prevent matches from closing earlier than they should and support staff in helping mentors, youth, and parents find positives when those relationships do end, regardless of reason.