Overall, there is evidence that mentoring can be effective. An often-cited study of 959 youth who applied to the BBBS program reported that the youths who participated were less likely to start using drugs or alcohol or to hit someone, and more likely to improve school performance, and peer and family relationships (Tierney, Grossman, & Resch, 1995). In a small sample BBBS study, 12 boys with a mentor improved academic achievement scores, when compared to 13 boys who were not yet paired with a mentor (Thompson & Kelly-Vance, 2001). When BBBS youth participated in a school-mentoring program, substantial gains were reported in grades, attendance, attitudes, and relationships with adults and peers (Curtis & Hanson-Schwoebel, 1999). In another study, youth improved problem behaviors compared to those on a wait-list (Keating, Tomishima, Foster, & Alessandri, 2002).
An evaluation of Across Ages, a substance abuse prevention project that pairs youth with adults over 55, reported an improvement in attitudes toward school, the future, and elders (Taylor, Lo Scuito, Fox, Hilbert, & Sonkowsky, 1999). Another program, Project SOAR, combined mentoring and academic assistance and improved math and reading grades. Even though the mentors served as tutors, youth who were successful reported forming friendships with their mentors (http://cals.arizona.edu/impacts/2003/5_6.html). TeamWorks, a group-mentoring program, also reported improvement in attitudes and school attendance (Van Patton, 1997). In a cohort comparison of sixth-graders, youth in the I Have a Dream (IHAD) program, which provides students with long-term financial, academic, and social support from sponsors, reported graduation rates that were doubled those of youth not in the program (Kahne & Bailey, 1999).
Although these studies indicate that mentoring can be effective, other studies show mixed or no effects (Roberts, Liabo, Lucas, DuBois, & Sheldon, 2004). In a BBBS study that compared participants with demographically matched control youth, no effects of mentoring were found on emotional or behavioral adjustment after one year (DuBois, Neville, Parra, & Pugh-Lilly, 2002). Two other BBBS programs also reported no mentoring effects (Abbott, Meredith, Self-Kelly, & Davis, 1997; Royse, 1998). Jackson (2002) found positive effects on parent, but not teacher reports. Even when positive effects are found, they may be insufficient to make a substantial difference. Project RAISE helped students in seven middle schools increase attendance and their grades, but not sufficiently to match typical students in the same district. In addition, there were no effects on standardized test scores or promotion rates (McPartland & Nettles, 1991).
These studies raise the question of how the effectiveness of mentoring can be increased. Several studies suggest some possibilities.
B. Increasing Effectiveness
Crucial to the effectiveness of mentoring is a strong relationship between mentors and youth. In a meta-analysis of 55 mentoring programs, program effects were significantly enhanced when there were strong relationships (DuBois, Holloway, Valentine, & Cooper, 2002). Youth with mentors who are more involved in the program or are perceived to be effective by the youth show greater improvement (LoSciuto, Rajala, Townsend, & Taylor, 1996; Slicker & Palmer, 1993).
The length of the relationship is also important. BBBS youth who were in a relationship with a mentor for at least one year showed greater improvement (Grossman & Rhodes, 2002). Of course, length may be an indicator of the strength of the relationship. Nevertheless, youth who dropped out of the mentoring relationship after a short time showed a decrement in functioning. The early terminators were more likely to have been referred for services or to have suffered abuse. Youth with behavioral or emotional problems may have difficulty building positive relationships and may not be appropriate for mentoring programs (Grossman & Rhodes, 2002).
Indeed, mentoring does not seem to directly improve emotional or behavioral problems (DuBois, Holloway, et al., 2002). A short-term, unsuccessful relationship with a mentor may be harmful, so programs need to carefully assess their recruitment, training, monitoring, and support of mentors (DuBois, Holloway, et al., 2002; Rhodes, 2002). If youth with emotional and behavioral problems are to be included in a mentoring program, it is crucial to have professionals to supervise the program operation. Mentoring programs mainly involve volunteers, so program providers need to establish a support network that includes professionals, in case unexpected problems arise in the mentoring relationships.
Whenever possible, involving parents also seems to increase effectiveness. Improvements in parental relationships were found to mediate positive effects on self-worth, school value, and grades for BBBS youth (Rhodes, Grossman, & Resch, 2000). A diversion-mentoring program for juvenile offenders also includes parental participation as a key component (White, et al., 2002).
The meta-analysis of 55 mentoring programs found that while the average effects of mentoring were modest, programs serving at-risk youth, such as those in lower socio-economic circumstances, were more successful. Other components of greater success were ongoing training for mentors, parent involvement, structured activities, and recruitment of mentors with helping experience, such as teachers (DuBois, Holloway, et al., 2002).