Juvenile Mentoring Programs

eveloped using the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America approach as its model, JUMP is designed to foster an emotional bond and mutual commitment between a child and an adult mentor.

At-risk youth and youthful offenders often have limited contact with prosocial adult role models. Research shows that it is uncommon for these youth to have a significant relationship with even one unrelated adult (Steinberg, 1990). In recognition of such needs for positive adult role models, OJJDP initiated its Juvenile Mentoring Program (JUMP). Developed using the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of America approach as its model, JUMP is designed to foster an emotional bond and mutual commitment between a child and an adult mentor (Hamilton, 1990).

JUMP is intended to match adult mentors (age 21 or older) who have successfully undergone a screening process with youth at risk of educational failure, dropping out, or involvement in delinquent activities. This program, which is to be provided in partnership with local education agencies (such as school districts), seeks to improve academic performance, reduce the dropout rate, discourage delinquent behavior and gang participation, promote personal and social responsibility, and encourage service and community activities. A maximum of $200,000 per year in funding for this component is provided to each SafeFutures site under Title II, Part G, of the JJDP Act of 1974, as amended.

Although recent research suggests that mentoring programs can be very effective in increasing protective factors for juveniles, there has been relatively little scientific evaluation of these initiatives to date. A recent Public/Private Ventures quasi-experimental evaluation found that BBBS mentoring participants self-reported that they were less likely than nonmentored youth (who were on a waiting list for a mentor) to engage in antisocial activities (initiating drug and alcohol use, hitting peers) and had improved academic performance (grades, competence, truancy), family relationships (trust, lying, index of parental relationship quality), and peer relationships (Tierney, Grossman, and Resch, 1995).

Benefits of Mentoring

  • Mentors provide the guidance and support of positive role models in the context of one-on-one relationships.

  • Mentoring has been recognized as an effective way to use volunteers to address poverty issues (Freedman, 1992) and thereby increase community involvement in collaborative efforts.

Key aspects of the BBBS mentoring that are believed to contribute to the positive results include (1) a high level of contact between mentors and participating youth (averaging 12 in-person hours per month and possible additional telephone contact); (2) a perspective that identifies the mentor as a friend, not a “teacher or preacher”; (3) thorough volunteer screening to ensure highly committed adults as mentors; (4) mentor training focused on communication, limit setting, relationship building, and ways to effectively interact with youth; (5) procedures that respect the preferences of youth and their families and possibly use a professional case manager to arrange matches between volunteers and youth; and (6) intensive supervision and support of each match by a case manager who maintains frequent contact with all parties and can resolve difficulties as they arise (Grossman and Garry, 1997).

ost SafeFutures sites implemented more than one mentoring program.

Most SafeFutures sites implemented more than one mentoring program. Some sites targeted mentoring to specific groups, such as at-risk girls or youth involved in the juvenile justice system. In some cases, mentoring also was funded under other SafeFutures components in addition to being supported by JUMP funds. With the exception of Fort Belknap, which uses SafeFutures program staff to administer its mentoring program, the demonstration sites originally implemented mentoring services by subcontracting with other local agencies. Three sites (Imperial County, Seattle, and St. Louis) used local affiliates of BBBS to provide some or all of their mentoring. (Imperial County later assigned oversight of the mentoring component to County Office of Education staff.) Boston, Contra Costa County, and Fort Belknap initiated new mentoring programs, and encountered startup issues that led to a variety of difficulties and delays.

Mentoring programs involve numerous details, including:

  • Recruiting, screening (to ensure the safety of mentees), and retaining suitable adult volunteers.

  • Training volunteers to meet program objectives and to handle difficult situations (e.g., youth or family problem behavior).

  • Promoting the program to service providers, schools, parents, and others who can refer targeted youth to the program.

  • Communicating program expectations and guidelines to parents and youth.

  • Matching youth and adults and resolving unsatisfactory matches.

  • Establishing routines for accountability and monitoring the success of mentor relationships.

ost new mentoring programs developed their own structures and procedures, including recruiting, orientation, and training programs for mentors.

Most new mentoring programs developed their own structures and procedures, including recruiting, orientation, and training programs for mentors. Many programs conducted periodic refresher trainings for mentors or held regular meetings at which mentors could discuss their experiences, receive advice, and participate in an informal support group. Boston sought to alleviate startup problems among its subcontractors—often small neighborhood-based organizations—by contracting with Greater Boston One to One (the local affiliate of a national organization that promotes mentoring) to train subcontractor staff to manage mentoring programs. This assistance, however, was not used as extensively as anticipated for a variety of reasons, including concerns about the flexibility or relevance of One to One’s model across different communities and ethnic groups.

Because of the requirements of the JUMP funding, one-on-one mentoring is the primary focus of SafeFutures mentoring. Most mentoring programs provide guidelines or requirements for “minimum” frequency and, sometimes, length of meetings between mentors and mentees—most commonly requiring weekly or biweekly meetings for 1 to 2 hours. Many programs encourage telephone contact in addition to in-person meetings. Activities are generally determined by the mentoring pair and typically include homework assistance, sports or recreation activities, going out for a snack or meal, participating in cultural events (e.g., going to a museum or concert), or just spending time together.

Few mentoring programs provide services beyond mentoring. One exception is the St. Louis mentoring program.

St. Louis, MO. The BBBS mentoring program in St. Louis provides a range of assistance to youth and families through its Community Connections program. Parents are asked to fill out a form identifying needs in a variety of basic areas (such as clothing, school supplies, toiletries, food, cleaning supplies, and furniture). Volunteers in the BBBS auxiliary division identify resources to fill these needs, make referrals, and are available to assist the family in negotiating the social service system, if needed (although families are also encouraged to act self-sufficiently to address their own needs).

Some programs supplemented one-on-one mentoring with group activities for youth or for youth and mentors. In some cases, particularly in programs operated by BBBS affiliates, group activities are primarily for youth who have not yet been matched with a mentor or youth whose mentors are still undergoing screening or training. Other mentor programs include periodic group activities for mentors and youth, such as community service events, field trips (including trips to attend sporting or theatrical events), recreational outings, and special events, including those focused on cultural enrichment and understanding (such as Black History Month or Cinco de Mayo events) or holiday observation. Group activities were used as a forum for providing academic assistance in some programs, including those in Boston and Contra Costa.

Boston, MA. In the Mattapan-Dorchester Churches in Action (MDCA) mentoring program in Boston, youth met twice a week for 2 hours with program coordinators and volunteers for assistance with homework. Meetings were followed by a snack and group discussion. Some mentors attended these sessions and had their one-on-one meetings afterward, but group sessions were not intended to be directly linked to mentor meetings.

Contra Costa County, CA. The Mirror Images Nurturing Directions (M.I.N.D.) program for elementary school girls in Contra Costa initiated a monthly book club to help girls’ reading and writing skills; mentors were not required to attend club meetings but could use them as one of their twice-monthly one-on-one contacts. The book club was discontinued after it became clear that the girls were uncomfortable reading aloud in front of the group because of their limited reading skills. Staff arranged to send girls to an existing tutoring program to improve their academic skills, and program administration is contemplating reintroduction of the book club.

wo sites implemented mentoring programs for youth in or transitioning out of the juvenile justice system.

Two sites—Contra Costa and Seattle—implemented mentoring programs for youth in or transitioning out of the juvenile justice system in addition to programs targeting other at-risk youth. Boston recently contracted with a provider to initiate mentoring services for youth returning to the community from Department of Youth Services (DYS) placement. Such programs can be viewed as systems reform efforts, in that they seek to address the community-based aftercare needs of youth transitioning out of juvenile detention facilities and, in some cases, link portions of the juvenile justice system with other entities in the community. The Contra Costa and Seattle programs are described below.

Contra Costa County, CA. Contra Costa’s Volunteers in Probation (VIP) program (funded under the serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offender programs component) was initiated as a systems reform effort for the Probation Department. The department was viewed as an isolated agency that would benefit from outside involvement. Probation hired a coordinator (funded through SafeFutures) to recruit and train volunteers, who were initially to perform two roles. One role was to serve as mentors to youth on probation, providing individualized attention that probation officers cannot generally offer. The mentors also relieve probation officers (who have large caseloads) of some routine functions such as following up on appointments, making phone calls, monitoring youth, helping youth get into specified programs, and assisting with transportation. Approximately half of the volunteers serve as one-on-one mentors. Alternatively, volunteers may be assigned to assist a specific probation officer with office work. Later, two additional forms of volunteer activity were added: helping youth produce a Juvenile Hall (detention facility) newsletter and providing Internet mentoring (to youth in residential facilities). The program also sponsors group activities for youth and mentors, such as whale watching, hiking, and ferry rides. The VIP program is viewed as successful in “opening up” the probation department and serving youth, and it is taking steps to attain status as a nonprofit organization to enable it to continue after SafeFutures funds terminate.

Contra Costa County, CA. The Step Up and Lead mentoring program in Contra Costa focuses on 12- to 18-year-old girls who are on probation. This program was originally intended to serve girls transitioning out of detention. This focus, however, turned out to be impractical because many girls leaving the Hall are sent to group homes, which are often located outside of the county (target area), making the girls ineligible for SafeFutures services. In addition, most group homes in the county do not allow visits by mentors. To address these issues, the program’s focus was changed to girls on probation in the county. Step Up and Lead is housed in a nonprofit agency that addresses foster care, but the mentoring program has its own director and assistant director, both of whom function somewhat as case managers for the girls. In addition to one-on-one mentoring, this program also holds periodic group activities for girls and mentors.

Seattle, WA. Seattle’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration (JRA) mentoring program’s target population is serious offenders sentenced under the Washington State Code, who are about to be released from correctional institutions. JRA is the State juvenile system that oversees youth detained for more than 30 days and provides juvenile parole services for those returning to the community from State facilities. JRA received SafeFutures funding to initiate and operate a program that matches JRA youth with mentors. One-on-one meetings (at least once a month) between JRA youth and their mentors begin 6 to 8 months prior to a youth’s release. Mentors serve as a stable presence in the youth’s lives, facilitating their transition to the community (e.g., by helping link them to housing and employment resources or helping them navigate reentry into the school system). Another key feature of the program is the intensive training and technical assistance support provided to the volunteer mentors. This program gained State recognition and was funded for replication in other parts of Washington.

cross sites, a wide variety of mentor recruiting mechanisms were used.

Across sites, a wide variety of mentor recruiting mechanisms were used, including personal contact, newspaper or radio advertising, and presentations to corporations or other groups (e.g., churches or professional organizations). Different programs found that different methods worked for them; no one approach seemed to be successful across all sites.

ost programs sought to avoid potential concerns about cultural incompatibility.

Most sites encountered challenges in recruiting mentors, both in newly established mentoring programs and in existing programs. In the latter, the increase in the number of youth to be served through SafeFutures created a need for more mentors than could be recruited in a relatively short time period, resulting in delays before one-on-one mentoring could start. Most programs sought to avoid potential concerns about cultural incompatibility by matching youth and mentors by gender and ethnicity whenever possible. Most programs sought mentors willing to work with youth who had more problems than the youth typically served by their organizations or encountered by most middle-class volunteers (typically the mainstay of many mentoring programs). St. Louis provides an example of an established mentoring program (operated by BBBS) that experienced difficulties in recruiting sufficient additional mentors, particularly African American and male mentors.

Enhancing Mentor Recruitment in St. Louis

To address recruiting difficulties, St. Louis Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) introduced two mentoring programs structured unlike the traditional BBBS model.

  • The “teammates” program allows two mentors to share mentoring of the same child. Each mentor meets with the youth a minimum of once per month, and a monthly group activity involves one or both of the mentors. Thus, the youth has at least three mentor contacts per month (two of which are one-on-one).

  • “Sports buddies” is modeled after a BBBS program initiated on the west coast. Affinity for sports is used to attract male volunteers interested in going to sporting events or otherwise sharing their interest in sports with youth. This program requires a 6-month commitment from the mentor (instead of the usual 12 months) and involves a one-on-one mentoring activity once a month, in addition to a monthly group activity.

Program staff expect that once volunteers begin mentoring under these more limited approaches, they will be “hooked” and will continue to serve as mentors, perhaps increasing their commitment to the traditional mentoring model. BBBS also made efforts to enhance recruitment by facilitating employment-based mentoring, for example, by offering to transport youth to the mentors’ downtown workplaces. This transportation eliminates mentor travel time and concerns about meeting youth in potentially unsafe locations.

BBBS also made modifications to its usual recruiting procedures. It established an “African American Ambassadors’ Council” early in the initiative under which business and community leaders lend their names to recruiting efforts and participate in limited activities geared collectively toward recruiting 500 African American mentors, both male and female. In year 2, BBBS hired a director of community relations (whose function is volunteer recruitment) and a vice president of marketing and communication. Although these positions are not funded through SafeFutures, recruiting for SafeFutures is their priority. St. Louis BBBS’s new recruiting practices and mentor structures and increased focus on minority and low-income youth are regarded as systems change within that organization.

ultural considerations affected recruiting in several programs.

Cultural considerations affected recruiting in several programs, including those in Boston, Fort Belknap, and Seattle, and also may affect parental or youth acceptance of mentoring.

Boston, MA. One Boston faith-based mentoring program operated by Mattapan-Dorchester Churches in Action found that increasing numbers of parents were uneasy about allowing their children to be alone with strangers or to be mentored by persons of a faith different from their own. As a result, parents were not allowing their children to meet with mentors one-on-one. MDCA responded by including parents in their weekly meetings of mentors and mentees, thereby enabling them to meet the mentors and see their interaction with the children. Although not its intended purpose, such an approach may increase parental involvement in youth activities and contribute to family strengthening.

Fort Belknap, MT. Cultural issues also were encountered in Fort Belknap. Gros Ventre and Assiniboine adults traditionally function as informal mentors to children, particularly to nieces and nephews. However, formal one-on-one mentoring was not a familiar concept to parents or potential mentors. SafeFutures addressed this issue by initiating a group “cultural mentoring” approach under which mentors work with four or five youth at a time, in addition to providing one-on-one mentoring. Mentors meet with youth in conjunction with ongoing cultural education activities (such as doing bead work or making dance regalia in the afterschool programs) or one-time events, such as field trips. In one SafeFutures site, several women who are “pipe carriers” or are involved in traditional tribal societies (in effect, function as tribal elders) participated in this form of mentoring. Cultural mentoring also is used on a one-on-one basis. Male tribal leaders from the White Clay society each mentored a youth who was having behavioral problems in school. The men took their mentees on a “first hunt,” traditionally regarded as a sign of adulthood in terms of demonstrating responsibility by providing for one’s family and tribe. The adults served as strong male role models, conveying tribal beliefs and traditions as part of the hunt that also became a source of pride for the participating youth.

Seattle, WA. Seattle’s initiative targeted primarily Asian American youth, with an emphasis on immigrant and refugee communities. However, recruiting mentors from these communities was difficult because the concept of one-on-one mentoring is not part of the native culture for the Asian groups with which the program worked. In addition, adults in these immigrant communities often work long hours at low-wage jobs to support their families, leaving little time available for volunteer activities. There were also concerns that providing such youth with a mentor might increase existing gaps between youth and their parents because youth typically acculturate more quickly than their parents. SafeFutures staff considered different approaches to address these cultural issues, such as introducing mentoring in an incremental fashion, perhaps by starting with tutoring and then expanding to mentoring after a comfortable relationship has been established.


Comprehensive Responses to Youth At Risk:
Interim Findings From the SafeFutures Initiative
OJJDP Summary November 2000