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Theories & Approaches

All Theories & Approaches

Getting Started

Having considered some of the basic theories and literature related to youth mentoring, this section provides some advice to agencies considering mentoring as a pregnancy prevention strategy. There are five broad foundations for youth mentoring programs that need to be considered in the development of a youth mentoring program (National Mentoring Center, 2003). A broader checklist of the sub-capacities associated with each foundation can be found in the next section: Foundations of a Successful Youth Mentoring Program: A Checklist.


Agency Capacity

As with all agency-based program efforts, the strength and health of a mentoring program begins with agency support, resources and infrastructure. Since mentoring is most effective when mentor and youth relationships are sustained over time (i.e., measured by months and years), it is critical that the capacity exists to sustain program efforts for the long-term. Capacity is reflected by an agency's strategic plan, policies, staffing, commitment and resources. In the absence of capacity, mentoring efforts will be at higher risk for failure.

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Proven Program Design

The heart and soul of any mentoring program is found in its program design. The "Elements of Effective Practice" outline the core of program design. This list of elements have been adopted or adapted by many state mentoring partnerships as quality assurance standards. For more information on the Elements of Effective Practice and State partnerships, see the National Mentoring Partnership's website (www.mentoring.org).

These program design elements govern the day-to-day operations of a mentoring program and help ensure youth safety as well as foster strong mentor and youth relationships. The Elements of Effective Practice — along with other evidence-based program design principles — address recruiting, orienting, screening and training mentors and youth as well as matching, supervising and supporting the mentors and youth through the mentoring process. Creating a proven program design is clearly the most intensive effort in the planning process.

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Effective Community Partnerships

As with most areas of youth development, few agencies and more importantly, few programs ultimately succeed by going it alone. Youth development is inherently a collaborative concern for the health and welfare of our children. Within the context of mentoring programs this truism is applicable. Most mentoring programs will need both formal and informal partnerships with schools, youth serving organizations and other community stakeholders to succeed. Community planning often strengthens the design of mentoring program.

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Sustainable Resource Development

Although many youth development interventions might exist on a shoestring budget, youth mentoring is not among them. One commonly accepted estimate for the cost of a youth mentoring program is approximately $1,100 for every youth served each year (Grossman, 1999). In the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's (OJJDP), Juvenile Mentoring Program (JUMP), grantees budget approximately $3,000 per youth served. This budget accounts for program start-up costs and costs associated with participating in a national evaluation.

An important variable associated with the financial costs of a mentoring program is staffing. Typical mentoring programs have a staffing ratio of approximately one full time staff to every 30-50 mentoring relationships, depending on the complexity of the program and the level of support given to mentors and mentees. In short, program planners need to give careful consideration to resource development for the short-term start up of a mentoring program, and for the long term sustainability of the program.

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Program Evaluation

Finally, the planning process for mentoring programs needs to consider program evaluation. As is the case with most youth interventions, funding agencies are demanding increased accountability and documentation of outcomes. Mentoring programs cannot afford to consider program evaluation as rhetoric or a nice optional activity. Indeed, designing meaningful program evaluation is the only way to gauge the effectiveness of program efforts and create a basis for continuous improvement decisions.

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Taken together, these five foundations outline the basics of a mentoring program plan. However, as with any youth intervention, the process of program planning and development is more complex that any primer on the subject might suggest. Fortunately, there are a number of print and web-based resources that can assist programs in developing a successful youth mentoring program. For more information, see Resources.

Nationally, several mentoring organizations provide support to mentoring programs.

  • The National Mentoring Center (NMC), a project of the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (NWREL) is the largest and most established training, technical assistance and resource center supporting youth mentoring programs across the country (www.nwrel.org/mentoring).


  • Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America (BBBSA) (www.bbbsa.org) through its network of regional training centers provide training and support for mentoring programs.


  • The National Mentoring Partnership (www.mentoring.org), a membership organization, works on national policy, maintains a national program database, assists states in building statewide partnerships, and provides limited training resources on its website.


  • At the state and regional levels, there are a number of other technical assistance providers working to support youth mentoring programs. An annotated and representative list of organizations can be found at the NMC website (www.nwrel.org/mentoring/organizations.html).

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