Understanding and Addressing Match Closures in Formal Youth Mentoring
WORKSHOP LED BY THOMAS E. KELLER & RENEÉ SPENCER
Thomas Keller, PhD, is the Duncan & Cindy Campbell Professor for Children, Youth, and Families in the School of Social Work at Portland State University. He directs the PSU Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring and the Center for Interdisciplinary Mentoring Research. His research interests include the development and influence of mentoring relationships, social networks in mentoring interventions, evaluation of program innovations and enhancements, the professional development of program staff, and the mentoring of undergraduates in science, biomedical, and health fields.
Renée Spencer, Ed.D., LICSW, is a Professor and Associate Dean for Research in the Boston University School of Social Work. She has conducted extensive research on long-term mentoring relationships and mentoring relationships that are potentially problematic or negative. She has brought to light the role of parents in mentoring and examined how and why youth mentoring relationships end. She has also considered how mentoring can be tailored to meet the needs of special populations, such as foster care and military-connected youth.
Relationships established through formal youth mentoring programs can have positive effects on youth development in academic, social, emotional, and behavioral domains. However, a substantial proportion of mentoring relationships end prematurely, before reaching program expectations for duration. Early ending relationships are associated with less positive, or even negative, outcomes for youth mentees. Even for longer-lasting relationships, the process of ending a match can be difficult and painful. Depending on the timing and circumstances, termination of a relationship can result in participants feeling disappointment, frustration, sadness, or guilt.
This workshop will share findings and discuss practice implications based on a study investigating the development and duration of formal mentoring relationships, with a particular emphasis on understanding premature match closures. Questions addressed in the workshop include: Why did matches end? Which factors predicted match endings? How were match endings handled? What effects did match endings have on mentees?
The mixed-method study employed prospective and retrospective designs to investigate mentoring relationships in the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) community-based mentoring program in the United States. In this program, mentor-mentee pairs initially commit to meeting for at least one year, although the program aims for longer-lasting matches. Adults volunteering to become mentors in four BBBS agencies were recruited and assessed for a variety of factors expected to be associated with relational success. When these mentors were proposed for specific matches, the youth mentee and parent/guardian were recruited and also completed baseline surveys prior to matching. Matches with all parties consenting to the study (n=356) were followed prospectively for at least 15 months.
When matches ended, the mentor, mentee, parent/guardian (PG), and BBBS match support specialist (MSS) completed retrospective surveys regarding their experiences in the program and the circumstances of the match closure. In addition, a sub-sample of closed matches (n=36) was selected for in-depth examination, with the mentor, PG, and MSS participating in semi-structured qualitative interviews to elicit each person’s perceptions of how the mentoring relationship developed and why it ended. In addition, program case notes were obtained from the agencies.
Analyses of the data have been informed by a systemic model of the youth mentoring intervention accounting for the perspectives and contributions of all participants (i.e., mentor, mentee, PG, MSS) to understand why matches ended, how they ended, whether endings could have been anticipated, and how endings affected mentees. The workshop will present findings from descriptive, predictive, and thematic analyses addressing these questions. For example, analyses have shown that initial expectations going into matches predict their duration; tensions in relationships among adults in the system (mentor, PG, MSS) can undermine a match as can lack of sensitivity to social class differences; relatively few matches end with a formal closure process; program staff rarely support participants in managing closure; and lack of communication about closure can leave mentees with lingering uncertainty and confusion. The workshop will include facilitated discussion of the implications of such findings for program practices and offer recommendations for more effectively preventing and managing mentoring relationship endings.