Applying a Social Justice Lens to Youth Mentoring: A Review of the Literature and Recommendations for Practice

By: Jamie Nicole Albright & Noelle M. Hurd

Despite their promise to reduce inequality through the provision of novel opportunities and increased social capital to marginalized youth, youth mentoring interventions hold the potential to reproduce rather than reduce inequality.

In the absence of programmatic efforts to prevent the recreation of oppressive structures within mentoring programs and relationships, mentoring interventions may be ineffective, at best, and harmful to youth, at worst.
Mentors who lack understanding of power, privilege, and oppression may be particularly at risk of engaging in practices that could contribute to poor relationships or premature termination.
But marginalized youth who are equipped with tools to understand and challenge oppression may be the most effective advocates for social change.

Some highlight from the Abstract:
• Makes program recommendations to reduce potentially reproducing inequality in mentoring.
• Applying a social justice framework may be central to fostering more equitable outcomes for youth.

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Model for relation building

Gilkerson, L., & Pryce, J. (2020). The mentoring FAN: A conceptual model of attunement for youth development settings. Journal of Social Work Practice, 0(0), 1–16.

The purpose of this article is to introduce the concept of attunement in mentoring – a FAN framework for relationship-building and reflective practice in mentoring. The Mentoring FAN encouraged staff members to concentrate on strengthening mentor relations. The framework also prioritizes reflective practice and theories of interpersonal communication to help build relational connections within the youth mentoring system. The next step in the development of the Mentoring FAN is to train the volunteer mentors on this tool.
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Connecting Youth: The Role of Mentoring Approach

This study examines how mentors approach their mentees and how the adults in their mentees’ lives influence.  ( 766 youth participated, in age from 11 to 14)

Person-centered analyses revealed three mentoring profiles which were differentially associated with youth outcomes: 
Status Quo Mentors,” reported low-to-moderate levels of closeness in the dyad, low levels of connecting their mentees with programs and people in their community, and low levels of mediating for their mentees
“Close Connectors,” reported moderate-to-high levels of closeness, moderate-to-high levels of connecting, and low levels of mediating.
Connector-Mediators,”  reported moderate levels of closeness, connecting, and mediating.
Youth mentored by “Close Connectors” demonstrated the greatest benefit, with significant improvements in parent–child relationship quality, extracurricular activity involvement, and help-seeking. 

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Social capital

Most volunteer-based mentoring and tutoring programs that connect  youth to volunteers from diverse backgrounds are creating bridging social capital for their youth. However few frame their program design and outcome messages. Few have ways to measure this.

This report talks about the value of social capital and of using metrics to measure it.
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Aligning social support to youth’s developmental needs: The role of nonparental youth–adult relationships in early and late adolescence.

By Mark Vincent B. Yu & Nancy L. Deutsc

This study demonstrates how a developmental perspective may elucidate the processes that characterise and underlie youth’s relationships with supportive non parental adults.
Findings provide implications to understand, promote and sustain these important relationships in the lives of youth.
However, despite the potential benefits of these relationships, there has been little consideration of how the relational process may vary across different adolescent stages.
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If momma ain’t happy with the mentoring relationship, ain’t nobody happy with the mentoring relationship

Relatively less is known about whether parental perceptions of the match impacts or the length and strength of mentoring relationships. In this research relationships were examined. Parents/guardians were also surveyed about their level of satisfaction with the match.
The primary findings were that parent/guardian dissatisfaction with the match relationships meeting goals was the only significant predictor of a higher likelihood of match closure.
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Factors That Enhance the Quality of Relationships Between Mentors and Mentees During Check & Connect. Behavioral

By: Kern, L., Harrison, J., Custer, B., & Mehta, P. (2019).

This study examined methods to mitigate school dropout and increase student engagement by looking to promote feelings of connectedness and a sense of belonging through successful mentoring relationships.
The researchers have looked at how mentees viewed their relationships with their mentors, trying to find out what makes a high quality in mentoring relationship, and what factors influence the success of the match.
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Relational competence in teacher education.

By Jonas Aspelin & Anders Jonsson
It is not a study about mentoring but about
 relational competence in teacher education by introducing a Swedish project which focuses on interpersonal aspects. However there are some similarities with mentoring regarding relational competences.

The concluding discussion focuses on lessons learned from the study regarding how to promote teacher students’ relational competence.

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A typology of school-based mentoring relationship quality

Implications for recruiting and retaining volunteer mentors
Barbara J.McMorrisa, Jennifer L.Doty, Lindsey M.Weiler, Kara J.Beckman and DiegoGarcia-Huidobro

A critical component of successful mentoring programs is the quality of relationships. In school-based settings, relationship quality measures tend to rely on single, undimensional indicators reported by one informant. Using data from a school-based sample of both mentors and mentees enrolled in Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities (n = 244), we identified multidimensional profiles of mentoring relationships, factors associated with profiles, and associations between profiles and program-related mentor outcomes.


  • Considering both mentor and mentee report of match relationship quality is crucial.
  • Understanding patterns of match quality informs training.
  • Strong match relationship quality relates to match length and commitment.

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