What the research says:
It is critical to ensure that mentors are thoroughly screened, well trained, supervised and supported to ensure the safety of the mentee participant. In addition, as many match activities may occur in the applicant’s home, it is necessary to assess the suitability of the home environment. Conducting the interview at the prospective mentor’s home (or at least visiting once as part of the screening process) can reveal even more information about the individual. This practice will be most relevant for community based programs where the mentor and mentee may be occasionally meeting at the mentor’s home. Site-based programs may also consider this practice, as it can provide a window into the mentor’s life outside the program and uncover inappropriate behavior (e.g., drug use, illegal activity) or attitudes that make them unsuitable for working with a child, even in a controlled, site-based setting.
Interviewer should know who lives in the home, or visits regularly, if there are pets living in the home or if people smoke inside, be aware of any safety concerns (e.g. a pool or river running through the property), the safety of the neighbourhood, etc. .
may include allergens, safety of the neighbourhood, a wide assortment of children’s toys or videos in homes where there is no logical explanation for them, access to firearms, etc. Additional concerns include rationalizing behaviour, inconsistencies between response and Vulnerable Sector Check results and externalizing blame for poor decisionsn.
The information obtained from references is critical to developing a full picture of the volunteer applicant. The information can either confirm and elaborate on, or dispute the information obtained through the volunteer interview. In order to gather as much relevant and meaningful information as possible, questions should be geared to the type of involvement the referee has had in the applicant’s life. Questions should be designed to gather important information that will help the interviewer decide if the applicant will be able to follow through on the commitment, be persistent, be comfortable with direction, understand boundaries and engage in a safe, healthy way with a vulnerable youth. Interviews should look for trends in responses; rarely will one answer determine whether an applicant should be accepted or rejected.
Assessing Mentor Suitability
Interviews, reference checks, home visits and criminal records checks only have value if the program knows how to interpret the information and has policies governing the types of information that would prohibit some applicants from volunteering. Although it is extremely important to ensure the safety of the children and youth in the program, it must also be recognized that many diverse cultural groups do not have the same connection to and understanding of these practices. In fact they are often seen as overly bureaucratic, invasive and unnecessary. Screening needs to be culturally appropriate; the criteria must be flexible enough to allow people to be mentors who have overcome difficult life challenges but have relevant experiences to share (Bisanz et al., 2003; Klinck et al., 2005).
“We turn down most mentors who apply. The mentor has to be willing to make the long-term commitment. If they can’t do that, I’d rather wait for the kid to have a mentor until we can find someone. Everyone abandons these kids, and that’s why we’re so strict.”
- Heather O’Keefe, StepStones for Youth