Best Practices for the Recruitment of Mentors
for Programs Serving Youth Who Are, Or Have Been In Receipt Of Child Protection Services
- Avoid negative or stereotypical labelling. Emphasize that these young people are not bad; many have become involved in the system of care because of environmental and social forces outside of their control. Potential volunteers may be ‘scared off’ by a stereotypical description of a youth receiving such services as “at-risk” or “system involved.”
- Emphasize the assets of youth who are in the child welfare system, especially their social competence, autonomy, and resiliency in the face of challenges. Explain that mentoring can help youth to build on these strengths with the support of trained mentors and program staff.
- Consider recruiting mentors with a similar personal background as the youth they will be serving (or perhaps some experience in the helping professions. e.g. teachers, social workers, health workers, police, etc.). Normalizing the youth’s experience is critical, as is role modeling successful coping strategies, so mentors can benefit greatly from personal experience here.
- Strive for inclusion in the recruitment plan with proactive outreach and recruitment efforts that deliberately focus on increasing diversity.
- Consider having youth identify any natural mentors to be brought forward for screening and support in the program. There is increasing evidence that successful outcomes may be associated with the presence of growth-fostering relationships with natural mentors for adolescent youth in care (Britner, Randall, & Ahrens, 2013). Unlike programmatic or formal mentors, who are unfamiliar to the youths, natural mentors are adults with whom the youths already are connected.
Particularly for older youth in care, there are several potential benefits of natural mentoring over programmatic mentoring. First, youth residing in out-of-home placements invariably have suffered loss and often experience difficulty with forming trusting relationships. Thus, natural mentoring capitalizes on the fact that youth possess enduring relationships from their communities of origin that can be strengthened and enhanced. Because these relationships are pre-existing, youth do not have to work through the challenges involved with establishing and building a foundation of trust. Additionally, these relationships are more likely to continue over time, as they formed organically and did not originate in an agency setting.
Second, by definition, natural mentoring is a youth-led process and relies on the decision-making power of the youth to identify their natural mentors. In a system where so many decisions are made for youth, young people in care often feel powerless and out of control. Natural mentoring puts the control back in the hands of youth by allowing them to nominate an adult whom they determine to be important.
Natural mentors are most likely to remain in place for the youth and create a sense of belonging long after they leave care and/or after other professional services end.
Third, natural mentoring may be a more culturally sensitive approach for adolescents in care because it seeks to strengthen their existing social support networks rather than imposing another outside relationship on them. Youth in care determine the important adults in their own lives as opposed to a potentially impersonal matching system.ix
Mechanisms to support and cultivate these natural relationships must be formalized and in place in order to maximize the potential of the youth, and the various roles that mentors can take on.