Youth mentoring relationships in context: Mentor perceptions of youth, environment, and the mentor role

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Journal: Children and Youth Services Review

Youth mentoring is primarily understood as a relationship between mentor and mentee, yet mentors often enter into home, school, and other community settings associated with youth they serve, and interact regularly with other people in mentees’ lives. Understanding how and why mentors negotiate their role as they do remains under explored, especially in relation to these environmental elements. This qualitative study drew on structured interviews conducted with professional mentors (N=9) serving youth at risk for adjustment problems to examine how mentors’ perceptions of their mentees and mentee environments informed their sense of how they fulfilled the mentoring role. Mentors commonly characterised problems youth displayed as byproducts of adverse environments, and individual-level strengths as existing in spite ofenvironmental inputs. Perceptions of mentees and their environments informed mentors’ role conceptualisations, with some mentors seeing themselves as antidotes to environmental adversity. Mentors described putting significant time and effort into working closely with other key individuals as well as one-on-one with mentees because they identified considerable environmental need; however, extra-dyadic facets of their roles were far less clearly defined or supported. They described challenges associated with role overload and opaque role boundaries, feeling unsupported by other adults in mentees’ lives, and frustrated by the prevalence of risks. Community-based mentoring represents a unique opportunity to connect with families, but mentors must be supported around the elements of their roles that extend beyond mentormentee relationships in order to capitalise more fully on the promise of the intervention.

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