Best Practices for the Screening of Mentors
for Programs Serving Youth Who Are, Or Have Been In Receipt Of Child Protection Services
The intention of the interview is to gather relevant and meaningful information to determine whether to accept the applicant and then, to make the most appropriate match. When you review the literature and reflect upon what characteristics lead someone to be a good and effective mentor, you think about qualities such as persistence, understanding, stability, consistency, being child-centred, and the ability to develop appropriately close and healthy relationships. Interview questions should serve to help the applicant more clearly understand the mentor role, boundaries and issues that may arise.
Successful mentors have particular strengths that make them effective in working with youth. Individuals who are strong across the following dimensions are most likely to make good mentors to vulnerable youth:
What the research says:
Relationships in which mentors are focused on trying to build a connection with the child with whom they are matched and are willing to readjust their personal expectations are stronger, with both participants expressing greater satisfaction with the relationship and expectations that it would continue indefinitely. In contrast, mentors who are invested in having their self-interest fulfilled (e.g., feeling good), talk about the relationship in ways that convey less satisfaction with the relationship, such as feeling their efforts are underappreciated by their mentees, and greater distress about scheduling challenges and other hurdles encountered in the relationship.
The Interviewer should have an understanding of why the person wants to mentor, their expectations, and why they are applying now. Do they have a good understanding of the program? Are their expectations reasonable? What will they get out of being involved?
Concerns include mentoring only for credit, because they are lonely, wanting to be matched with a child "as soon as possible", going through a transition (separation, divorce, etc.), idealizing or thinking they can "change" or "save" the child, having needs greater than the volunteer experience can/should fulfill, and expressing unrealistic expectations of their role or what they can accomplish. An inability to articulate their motivation to volunteer is also a concern
What the research says:
Mentoring is about building a healthy relationship with a youth. Patterns of behaviour in current and previous relationships, both personal and familial, are good indicators of how the applicant is likely to engage in a mentoring relationship. Stability in current healthy relationships and a reasonable and supportive network of adult friends and family members is an indicator of an ability to persist and negotiate through challenge.
Research into the characteristics of effective mentors, suggests that the attachment style of mentors plays a major role in how they perform in a mentoring relationship, especially when there is conflict. Mentors with a healthy, secure adult attachment pattern are able to withstand periods of conflict in mentoring relationships. Those who have a less healthy pattern of attachment may struggle to bond with the youth, invest in the relationship, or stick with it through a challenging time in the relationship. This has implications for programs serving youth, who may be more likely to “test” their mentor or resist the relationship. Programs serving youth in systems of care must be careful to avoid mentors who have less than- ideal attachment patterns. They are unlikely to be successful in creating those positive contexts and following through on the commitment.x
The interviewer should have a clear understanding of important relationships in the applicant’s life, current relationships with a partner, involvement of a partner in the match, support network and some insight into stability related to relationships. The interviewer should have an understanding of the applicant’s family background and current family situation to assess stability, support networks, relationship boundaries, likelihood and appropriateness of family members being involved in the match, etc. Applicant should demonstrate a pattern of openness to others, flexibility and empathy regarding the changing needs of relationships, the capacity to connect across differences, and an ability to connect with young people and be able to appropriately engage with family/guardians. Applicant should demonstrate an ability to end relationships in a healthy way and an understanding of his/her role in ending relationships.
include a lack of friends in childhood, the lack of a “best friend” or confidant growing up, patterns of social isolation beginning in adolescence, a lack of meaningful adult friendships as an adult, a belief that children make the best friends, unrealistic expectations about friendships or relationships, history of poor or short-term relationships, a tendency to not take any responsibility for relationship problems, unhealthy attachment or over-involvement in new relationships, over-idealized notions of past or future relationships, tendency to view past or future relationships in extreme ways, getting lost in relationships, general lack of support, marriage ending due to arguments over parenting, personal parenting issues, disruptions caused by moves or crises or conflict, a negative emotional climate at home, frequent moves, living alone in an area heavily populated by children, inappropriate relationships with children in community (eg. “Kids come to me if they have a problem”), a family that had poor boundaries around sexual behaviour, presents self as victim of other’s behaviour and a lack of support through a crisis or major transition.
Reflections from the 2011 Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring “It May Be the Missing Piece” – Exploring the Mentoring of Youth in Systems of Care, Michael Garringer, National Mentoring Center