Displaying items by tag: Parent orientation and training

Tuesday, 13 September 2016 09:09

Family Engagement

  • Evidence Rating for this Practice:

    Insufficient Research (Insufficient Evidence: 4 Studies and 5 Tests of the Practice)

    In all 4 of the studies reviewed, the methodology used for assessing effects of the practice did not meet relevant criteria for rigor. As a result, these studies were each designated as Insufficient Evidence and the practice as a whole is designated as Insufficient Research. This rating is based on currently available research and may change as new research becomes available.

    Description of Practice:

    Family engagement involves efforts by the mentoring program to support positive engagement of the mentee’s parent or caregiver and/or other members of the mentee’s family in the mentoring process. Family engagement can take several forms, including orientation or training for parents/caregivers prior to the start of the mentoring relationship, planning and sponsoring activities that bring the youth, mentor and parent/caregiver and/or other family members together, and periodic check-ins with parents/caregivers during the course of the mentoring relationship. Also possible are related practices that do not directly involve the parent/caregiver or other family members. Mentors, for example, may receive training or ongoing coaching from program staff on how to partner effectively with the mentee’s parent/caregiver. The timing and intensity of family engagement practices can vary widely, from one-time events at the start of the relationship (e.g., initial orientation) to those that are frequent and ongoing (e.g., monthly support contacts with parents). With respect to the three approaches to family involvement in mentoring programs identified in research by Spencer & Basualdo-Delmonico (2014), family engagement would include the approaches of Involving (providing information and education to parents, primarily to avoid having them become potential “road blocks” in the mentoring process) and Collaborating (partnering with parents as experts on their children and assets to be leveraged in support of the mentoring process), but not the approach of Engaging and Serving, which is focused instead on addressing the broader needs of the family. As this suggests, family engagement should be distinguished from the practice of family support as reviewed by the National Mentoring Resource Center, in which the goal is to support the mentee’s family, such as through skill-building workshops for parents or connecting families to community resources. Family engagement is also different from family mentoring arrangements in which the aim is to have mentors engage in supportive interactions with entire families (Taylor & Porcellini, 2014).


    The primary goal of the practice is to support and strengthen the mentoring relationship and promote positive outcomes for the mentee by increasing parent/family engagement in and support for the relationship.

    Target Population/Eligibility of Target Sites:

    This practice is potentially applicable to all forms of mentoring and the full range of youth who may be served by programs.

    Theory and Evidence-Informed Principles:

    The practice of family engagement is consistent with Parental Acceptance Theory, which implies that parental support for the mentoring relationship can facilitate the mentee’s ‘receptivity’ to the mentor and his or her support and thus facilitate positive mentee outcomes (Taylor & Porcellini, 2014). Similarly, Keller’s systemic model of mentoring (2005) suggests that the mentoring relationship is embedded within a network of reciprocal relationships that includes the youth, the mentor, the parent/guardian, and the agency personnel and that within this system family engagement (e.g., involving parents in relationship support contacts) may help enable positive and effective mentoring relationships. Social Network Theory, furthermore, suggests that engagement of family members more broadly in the mentoring relationship (for example, not only parents but also others such as grandparents, foster parents, siblings, or other caregivers), may help to foster a useful ‘team’ approach to supporting the mentoring relationship (Keller & Blakeslee, 2014). In broad alignment with these possibilities, qualitative research incorporating the perspectives of mentors and parents points to the significance of open and consistent communication and collaboration between mentors and parents in facilitating effective mentoring relationships (Lakind, Atkins, & Eddy, 2015; Spencer, Basualdo-Delmonico, & Lewis, 2011).

    Corresponding Elements of Effective Practice:

    This practice is most relevant to the area of Monitoring and Support within the Elements of Effective Practice.

    Key Personnel:

    The successful implementation of this practice is likely to require staff to have skill and experience in the various methods that may be used to engage parents and other family members (e.g. orientation sessions, ongoing parent support, mentor training, etc). For example, where a training or workshop format is utilized, staff should have a mastery of the substantive content and be experienced with effective methods of group facilitation and instruction. Of key importance in all instances is likely to be program staff attunement to the interests and strengths of parents and other family members as well as those of mentors and youth as they relate to family engagement. Staff ideally will be experienced in the use of strategies that well-aligned with this principle (e.g., motivational interviewing).

    Additional Information:


  • Study 1

    Evidence Classification:

    Insufficient Evidence

    Evaluation Methodology:

    Kaye & Smith (2014) tested the effects of a parent engagement intervention within the Big Brothers Big Sisters Capital Region (BBBSCR) mentoring program, which serves families residing in four counties in upstate New York. The intervention was developed based on feedback from parents and mentors indicating the need for improved communication with parents about the mentoring relationship. The intervention was designed to increase parental and mentor knowledge about and support for mentoring, to strengthen and lengthen the mentoring relationship, and to reduce precursors of delinquency. The intervention consisted of six components: 1) a parent orientation and 2) a parent handbook which oriented parents to the program and communication expectations; 3) a mentor training workshop that addressed potential challenges in the match; 4) enhanced match support calls that addressed a time relevant topic about the match such as reasons to call match support; 5) monthly parent postcards that reinforced verbal communication of topics; and 6) biannual family events that brought together parents, mentors, and youth to share a meal, engage in fun activities, and get to know each other.

    Study participants consisted of families in the BBBSCR community-based program as well as those in a BBBSCR site-based mentoring program between November 2011 and November 2012. All newly enrolled matches (i.e., the youth, his or her mentor, and the youth’s primary parent or guardian) were recruited into the intervention group. Youth on the program waitlist constituted the comparison (treatment as usual) group. The study sample consisted of 125 matches with 63 matches in the intervention group and 62 in the comparison group; 97 matches were in the community-based program and 28 were in the site-based program.

    The median age of participating youth was 10 years; 62 percent were female; 47 percent were Black, 29 percent were White, and 20 percent were multi-racial. Eighty-five percent of youth were eligible for free or reduced school lunch and 40 percent had a medical and/or psychological diagnosis. Participating parents were predominately female (95%) and had a median age of 36 years; 46 percent were Black and 40 percent were White; 68 percent were single parents; 46 percent were employed; and 79 percent reported an annual household income of less than $30,000. Participating mentors were mostly female (66%) and had a median age of 26 years; 69 percent were White and 23 percent were Black; 57 percent were employed; and 38 percent were college students.

    Study outcomes were measured at baseline (when the match was made) and one year later. Youth behavior problems and competencies were reported by parents and were measured using the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) Syndrome Profile scores (Anxious Depressed, Withdrawn Depressed, Somatic Complaints, Social Problems, Thoughts Problems, Attention Problems, Rule Breaking Behaviors, Aggressive Behavior, and Other Problems), combined syndrome scores (Internal Syndrome, External Syndrome, and Total Syndrome), DSM-Oriented Profile scores (Affective Problems, Anxiety Problems, Somatic Problems, ADHD Problems, Oppositional Defiant Problems, and Conduct Disorder), and 2007 Multicultural Supplement scores (Obsessive Compulsive Problems, Post Traumatic Stress Problems, and Sluggish Cognitive Tempo). GPA and attendance data, collected from school records, were used to create 2 academic performance scores (labeled Academic Mean and School Score respectively). Youth and mentor reports of relationship quality were collected using youth- and mentor-reports on the Strength of Relationship (SOR) survey of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA), which includes youth-reported subscales for coping, lack of disappointment, safety, importance, and closeness and mentor-reported subscales for connectedness, lack of frustration, confidence, closeness, and decision making. Data on mentoring relationship length and consistency of contacts between youth and mentors were collected from the BBBSA Agency Information Management (AIM) database. Relationship length was measured using a binary (yes/no) indicator of whether the match remained open for at least 12 months; consistency of contact was measured by the number of outings matches went on per month and by the number of hours matches spent together per month. Background data were collected using a youth enrollment questionnaire.

    Regression analysis was used to test for intervention and comparison group differences on outcome measures. Propensity score weighing was used to account for baseline group differences resulting from study design limitations (no random assignment of participants into intervention and comparison groups). A probit model Propensity Score Analysis (PSA) was conducted to identify the most important group differences to include in the creation of the propensity score. The following six background and youth variables were included in the propensity score: parent employment, youth age, youth eligibility for free/reduced school lunch, child in therapy, and baseline CBCL Internal Syndrome and DSM Affective Problems scores. The analysis also accounted for the following treatment dosage and program practice variables: (1) half program dosage, representing whether participants received at least half of the basic program dosage, (2) treatment error, representing whether comparison group members received treatment in error, (3) parent participation in a previous (pre-study) version of parental orientation, (4) parent attendance at the biennial family event or mentor receipt of ETC training, (5) family effect, representing whether a family had multiple children in the study, and (6) program type (community-based or site-based).

    Evaluation Outcomes:

    Reviewed Findings

    Kaye & Smith (2014) found no significant difference, at one-year post-test, between youth in the intervention and comparison groups with regard to scores on any of the following scores on the CBCL: Internal Syndrome, External Syndrome, Total Syndrome, Affective Problems, Anxiety Problems, Somatic Problems, ADHD Problems, and Oppositional Defiant Problems.

    Kaye & Smith (2014) found no significant difference, at post-test, between youth in the intervention and comparison groups with regard to GPA or school attendance.

    Mentoring Relationship Quality
    Kaye & Smith (2014) found no significant difference, at post-test, between youth in the intervention and comparison groups with regard to scores on any of the following mentoring relationship quality: youth-reported coping, lack of disappointment, safety, importance, or closeness and mentor-reported connectedness or confidence.

    Mentoring Relationship Length and Consistency of Contacts
    There was no significant difference, at post-test, between youth in the intervention and comparison groups in the proportion of matches that lasted at least 12 months, in the number of outings per month, or in the number of hours matches spent together per month.

    Additional Findings
    Kaye & Smith (2014) also found no statistical differences at post-test between youth in the intervention and comparison groups on any of the remaining outcome measures that are not referenced above under Reviewed Findings.

    Study 2 (Two tests of the practice: Parental engagement efforts and Parent activity and match support recommendations)

    Evidence Classification:

    Parent engagement efforts – Insufficient Research; Parent activity and match support recommendations – Insufficient Evidence

    Evaluation Methodology:

    Wheeler & DuBois (2009) examined correlates of practices relating to family engagement as part of a survey of 113 BBBSA affiliates regarding their community-based mentoring programs; the sample included 80 affiliates with data available in BBBSA’s web-based AIM system. Data were collected via an online survey conducted between May and September of 2009. The response rate was 34 percent for all affiliates (i.e., 131 of 385 total) and 81 percent for affiliates with AIM data. The survey included a number of questions related to how the affiliate engages parents and families, including whether the affiliate valued and used parental input during the match making process (reported by 93% of affiliates), whether parents were invited to affiliate events (reported by 29%), whether the affiliate had a family/parent liaison on staff (reported by 5%), and whether parents were provided with specific activities or recommendations for how they could support their child’s match goals (reported by 50%).

    Analyses examined the associations of reported types of family engagement practice with average total scores on the BBBSA Strength of Relationship (SOR) survey as completed 3 months into the relationship by both the volunteer (Big Brother or Big Sister) and child as well as with measures of relationship duration (6 and 12 month retention rates, average match length). The first three questions listed above were combined and analyzed as a multi-item practice scale; the last question (about parental activities) was analyzed as a separate variable. The outcome measures were all derived from the AIM system and thus the analyses were limited to the subset of 80 responding affiliates with AIM data. On average, sixty percent of mentors in these affiliates were female and 29 percent were non-white. Additionally, on average, 81 percent of children served by the affiliates lived in one-parent households, 19 percent had an incarcerated parent, and 21 percent qualified for free or reduced school lunch.

    Analyses included bivariate correlations between the practice and outcome measures as well as partial correlations that controlled for any of several assessed affiliate characteristics (e.g., % of women volunteers, % of children with 2 or more risk factors) that had a significant or near-significant (p < .10) correlation with the outcome measure being considered.

    Evaluation Outcomes:

    Reviewed Findings
    3-month SOR score

    Wheeler & DuBois (2009) found a significant and positive correlation between the multi-item practice scale and 3-month volunteer-reported SOR scores and the correlation with 3-month child-reported SOR scores, although not statistically significant, was in a positive direction large enough to indicate an association of substantive magnitude. However, the corresponding correlations of volunteer- and youth-reported SOR scores with affiliate report of providing parents with specific activities or recommendations for how to support match goals were not significant.

    Match Retention Rate
    Wheeler & DuBois (2009) found no significant correlation between the multi-item practice scale and 6 and 12 month match retention rates (i.e. the % that lasted at least six months and twelve months). The corresponding correlation between providing parents with specific activities or recommendations and 6 month match retention was in a negative direction and, although not statistically significant, was large enough to indicate an association of substantive magnitude. The correlation between providing parents with specific activities or recommendations and 12 month match retention was negative and statistically significant.

    Average Match Length
    Wheeler & DuBois (2009) found no significant correlation between the multi-item practice scale and average match length. The corresponding correlation of average match length with report of providing parents with specific activities or recommendations, although also not statistically significant, was negative and large enough to indicate an association of substantive magnitude.

    Additional Findings
    participants in match introduction meetings (reported by 98% of affiliates) and use of parental input in the goal-setting process (reported by 68%) were correlated with the above described measures of match quality and duration. Analyses revealed no significant correlations between involvement of parents in match introduction and any of the outcomes. Affiliate report of use of parental input in goal-setting was negatively and significantly correlated with average match length and exhibited non-significant positive associations of substantive magnitude with 3 month youth- and volunteer-reported SOR scores.

    Study 3

    Evidence Classification:

    Insufficient Evidence

    Evaluation Methodology:

    Herrera, DuBois, & Grossman (2013) examined correlates of family engagement as part of an evaluation of the effectiveness of seven community-based youth mentoring programs, 5 of which were those of BBBSA affiliates. Mentors in the programs were volunteers and provided one-on-one mentoring to youth. The evaluation included 1,310 youth who ranged in age from 8- to 15-years and were from a variety of ethnic backgrounds (23% African American, 22% Hispanic and 43% White). Based on parental report, almost all youth (99%) faced one or more environmental risk factors; approximately two-thirds (66%) lived in single-parent homes; 43 percent were from low-income households (i.e., annual incomes below $20,000); and 24 percent had a close family member who was incarcerated or had frequent problems with the law. Additionally, nearly three quarters of the youth (71%) experienced one or more individual risk factors, which were assessed in the areas of academic challenges, mental health concerns, and problem behaviors. Seventy-one percent of program participants had both environmental and individual risk factors; approximately one-fourth (26%) were designated as “high” on both types of risk.

    Mentors in the various programs were predominately White (82%), had an average age of 32 years, and nearly one-quarter were college students (one of the programs was university-based and used college student as mentors). Nearly half of the mentors (44%) reported having prior experience working with youth with behavioral, social, or emotional difficulties and similar numbers reported experience working with youth from diverse cultural backgrounds (45%) and youth living in poverty (35%). Survey measures for the study were completed by youth, mentors, and parents both at baseline and at a 13-month follow-up.

    Family engagement was measured using program-recorded data on the provision of support contacts to parents. These data indicated that programs provided regular support contacts (i.e., contacts during at least 70 percent of the months that the child’s mentoring relationship was active during the 13-month study period) for approximately half of the parents (48%). Analyses examined whether receiving parent support calls at this level was predictive of mentor-mentee meeting frequency (frequent meetings were defined as 3 or more meetings a month at least 70 percent of the months that the match was active) and the relationship lasting 12 months or more, each of which was assessed via program records, and relationship quality as reported by the youth (indices of levels of goal or growth focus and youth-centeredness in the relationship, respectively, and the youth’s feelings of closeness toward his or her mentor). In cases where the outcomes were dichotomous (i.e. meeting frequency and relationship lasting 12 months or more), analyses used logistic regression. Analyses also controlled for the youth’s gender, age, race/ethnicity, and risk status group as well as for program.

    Evaluation Outcomes:

    Herrera et al. (2013) found that receiving regular parent support (at least 70 percent of the months monitored in the study) was significantly and positively correlated with whether or not the mentor and mentee met on a regular basis, but not with whether the relationship lasted 12 months or more, mentor-reported level of growth/goal focus in the mentoring relationship, mentee-reported level of youth centeredness in the mentoring relationship, or mentee-reported feelings of closeness to mentors.

    Additional Findings
    Herrera et al. (2013) also tested whether regular parent support contacts as a predictor of mentoring relationship outcomes varied according to youth individual and environmental risk status. No significant differences were found.

    Study 4

    Evidence Classification:

    Insufficient Evidence

    Evaluation Methodology:

    Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada (BBBSC) (2016) examined correlates of family engagement as part of an evaluation of programmatic enhancement to its In-Schools Mentoring Program (ISM). At the time of the research, the ISM program provided mentors to 12,000 students through almost all 118 agencies in Canada. Volunteer mentors were screened and trained and engaged in one-on-one, one hour, weekly meetings with elementary school students in the school setting throughout the school year. Activities were collaboratively selected by the mentee and mentor and were aimed at fostering confidence and improving attitudes towards school, peers, and other adults.

    The evaluation was conducted in 10 agencies, which collectively served about 1,300 students during the study period. Four programmatic enhancements/modifications were selected and each was implemented in at least one agency. The practice of family engagement was part of the network engagement modification, which sought to positively impact youth outcomes by building and improving connections between the mentor and other key individuals in the mentee’s life (e.g. parents, teachers, and peers). Mentors in the agencies implementing this modification were provided with a list of ways to be more engaged with members of the mentee’s network, including his or her home network (parent, step-parent, guardian, etc). Mentors were not expected to implement every item on the list but were expected to look for opportunities to make network connections. Suggested mentor activities for family engagement included writing a letter to parent (using an agency-provided outline and sent via the agency) to introduce oneself and what one was looking forward to in the match and sending (through the agency) questions for parents about how the mentor could help the mentee at school.

    Outcome data were collected from mentors across participating agencies at baseline (beginning of school year) and follow-up (end of school year) on their perceptions of program quality, quality of staff support, mentoring relationship quality, and likelihood of continuation in the program in the following school year. Program quality was measured using a 4-item scale (e.g. “the mentoring program is clear about its goals”, “I received sufficient training from the mentoring program prior to beginning my match”). Quality of staff support was assessing using 3 items: “program staff seem truly concerned about how well our match is going”, “program staff help make me a better mentor”, and “the contact I have with program staff is sufficient to ask questions and get the information I need”. Relationship quality was measured using a 9-item scale (e.g. “I think my Little sees me as someone special in his/her life”, “I feel close to my Little”). Likelihood of continuation was measured with a single item asking “How likely is it that you will be mentoring in this program next year?” Response options for the above questions were on a 5-point scale from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5).

    Baseline data were provided by 81 mentors and follow-up data was provided by 63 mentors at network engagement modification agencies. Mentors from the network agencies were more likely to be female (77 percent) than male (23 percent). Most Littles (63 percent) in network agencies were also female and 90 percent were in Grades 1 to 6. Statistical tests were conducted to determine whether there was a difference in outcome measure scores from baseline to follow-up among mentors in network agencies.

    Evaluation Outcomes:

    Reviewed Findings
    BBBSC (2016) found that mentors in the network enhancement agencies had significantly lower ratings of quality of staff support at follow-up in comparison to baseline but did not differ significantly from baseline to follow-up in their ratings of program quality, mentoring relationship quality, or reported likelihood of continuing in the program the following year.

    Additional Findings
    Mentors also reported on the frequency of communication with Little’s parent/guardian by phone, email, or face-to-face contact; response options were never, once every 4-6 months, once every 2-3 months, once a month, and every week or two. In general, there was no significant change among mentors in network enhancement agencies between baseline and follow-up in how often they reported communicating with their Littles’ parents/guardians. Additionally, there were no significant associations between frequency of parent communication as assessed at follow-up and any of the outcome measures among mentors in network enhancement agencies.

  • External Validity Evidence:

    Variations in the Practice
    The studies reviewed examined a variety of family engagement practices. For example, Kaye & Smith (2014) assessed the effect of a multi-component family engagement intervention as an added component to Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring, whereas BBBSC (2016) focused on the use of suggested activities for mentors to use in engaging parents. The target of the family engagement activities also differed between studies. For example, in Kaye & Smith (2014), the family engagement activities targeted both parents (e.g., parent orientation) and mentors (e.g., training), whereas in BBBSC (2016), family engagement activities targeted mentors only. Additionally, family engagement was implemented by staff in Hererra et al. (2013), whereas mentors were responsible for building connections with parents in the BBBS Canada (2016) study. One study (Wheeler & DuBois, 2009) reported findings suggestive of possible negative effects of providing parents with a list of suggested ways they can support their child’s mentoring relationship, whereas favorable results were obtained in this research when considering whether affiliates offered a combination of family engagement practices (i.e. requiring parents to attend a group program orientation specifically designed for them, valuing and using parental input in the match-making process, and having a family liaison on staff to engage parents). The implications of varying levels and types of requirements or flexibility that are incorporated into family engagement as a practice have not been studied systematically and thus remain in need of clarification.

    Youth served by the programs evaluated in the studies were from a variety of backgrounds and had varying levels of environmental and individual risks, including being from low income families, having an incarcerated parent or close family member, having a medical or psychological diagnosis, and having academic challenges or prior delinquency. All programs in the studies reviewed targeted youth who were elementary or middle school-aged; the mean ages of mentees across the studies reviewed were between 10 and 12 years. Programs served varying proportions of male and female students. For example, youth in the Kaye & Smith (2014) and the BBBSC (2016) studies were predominantly female (95% and 63% respectively), whereas those in the Herrera et al (2013) study were equally divided by gender. Notably, only one study (Herrera et al. 2013) investigated possible differences in effects of the practice of interest across subgroups of youth, in this case with respect to their individual and environmental risk levels. Analyses of this nature as well as evaluations of family engagement practices with a broader spectrum of youth in terms of age will be necessary to clarify the manner and extent to which their implications vary across subgroups of youth.

    All of the mentors represented in the studies reviewed were volunteers and most were female; 60% of mentors in the DuBois & Wheeler (2009) study, 66% of those in the Kaye & Smith (2014) study, and 76% of mentors in the BBBSC (2016) study were female. Mentor ages varied across studies; the mean age of mentors was 32 years in Herrera et al. (2013) and the median age was 26 years in Kaye & Smith (2014). Two of the studies also included mentors who were in college (Kaye & Smith, 2014) or college-aged (29% of participants in DuBois & Wheeler were 18-25 years old). Studies reviewed, however, did not test for differences in effect of family engagement in relation to mentor characteristics, making the applicability of findings to different subgroups of mentors unknown.

    Program Settings/Structures
    Mentoring programs evaluated in the studies reviewed were almost exclusively either community-based or school-based Big Brothers Big Sisters programs in the U.S. or Canada. As such, reviewed programs used a one-on-one mentoring format and program enhancements interventions were incorporated into existing programs. Although one study (BBBSC, 2016) implementing program enhancements in both school-based and community-based settings adjusted for site-type in examining the effects of family engagement on outcomes, it did not examine the effect of site-type on outcomes. Absent these types of analyses and investigation of family engagement practices across a wider spectrum of programs, understanding of its implications across different program structures or settings is limited.

    All of the studies reviewed assessed outcomes related to the mentoring relationship, such as meeting frequency, relationship quality, and/or match length. Only one study (Kaye & Smith, 2014), however, assessed youth outcomes, which clearly limits understanding of the implications that the practices examined may have had for mentees either via or distinct from any observed apparent consequences for the mentoring relationship.

  • Resources Available to Support Implementation:

    Resources to support implementation of family engagement can be found under the Resources section of this website. These resources include:

    Supporting YouthBuild Students in Mentoring Relationships - This customizable Word document was originally designed for YouthBuild programs with the intention of providing information to parents, caregivers, and other supportive adults about the student’s new relationship with a volunteer mentor.

    Going the Distance: A Guide to Building Lasting Relationships in Mentoring Programs - This guidebook provides advice and tools that are intended to help ensure long-lasting relationships in site- and community-based mentoring programs. It identifies caregivers as important stakeholders in mentoring relationships and offers an example of how to engage families.

  • Evidence Base:

    Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada. (2016). In School Mentoring Modification Project report. Unpublished report.

    Herrera, C., DuBois, D. L., & Grossman, J. (2013). The role of risk: Mentoring experiences and outcomes for youth with varying risk profiles. New York, NY: A Public/Private Ventures project distributed by MDRC. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/KFdZrs

    Kaye, L., & Smith, C. (2014) Understanding the role of parent engagement to enhance mentoring outcomes: Final evaluation report. Center for Human Services Research University of Albany. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/grants/247571.pdf

    Wheeler, M., & DuBois, D. L. (2009). Analysis of responses to agency practices survey for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America’s community-based mentoring program. Unpublished report prepared for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

    Additional References:

    Lakind, D., Atkins, M., & Eddy, J. M. (2015). Youth mentoring relationships in context: Mentor perceptions of youth, environment, and the mentor role. Children and Youth Services Review, 53, 52-60. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2015.03.007 

    Karcher, M. J., Davis, C., and Powell, B. (2002). The effects of developmental mentoring on connectedness and academic achievement. School Community Journal, 12, 35-50. Retrieved from http://www.adi.org/journal/fw02/Karcher%20et%20al..pdf

    Keller, T. E. (2005). A systemic model of the youth mentoring intervention. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 26, 169-188. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10935-005-1850-2

    Keller, T. E., & Blakeslee, J. E. (2014). Social networks and mentoring. In D. L. DuBois & M. J. Karcher (Eds.), Handbook of youth mentoring (2nd ed., pp. 129-142). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Spencer, R., Basualdo-Delmonico, A., & Lewis, T. O. (2011). Working to make it work: The role of parents in the youth mentoring process. Journal of Community Psychology, 39, 51-59. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jcop.20416 

    Taylor, A. S., & Porcellini, L. (2014). Family involvement. In D. L. DuBois & M. J. Karcher (Eds.), Handbook of youth mentoring (2nd ed., pp. 457-468). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Insights for Practitioners

Click here for additional insights and tips for those working in, developing, or funding programs that may use this practice.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016 09:11

Family Engagement

*Note: The National Mentoring Resource Center makes these “Insights for Mentoring Practitioners” available for each program or practice reviewed by the National Mentoring Resource Center Research Board. Their purpose is to give mentoring professionals additional information and understanding that can help them apply reviews to their own programs. You can read the full review on the National Mentoring Resource Center website.

If it’s true that, as Search Institute founder Peter Benson once famously said, relationships are the oxygen of human development, then there is one set of relationships in most children’s lives that are pumping more air into the room than any other: the relationships with their parents. Beyond their widely agreed upon status as the core contributors to the development of every young person, parents (or other primary care givers) also serve as an intermediary between their child and the broader world. Until a child reaches adulthood, parents inevitably have a large role in determining the activities their child engages in and their access to, and engagement with, other caring adults.

For many youth mentoring programs, effectively engaging parents and other caregivers in the service of fostering a stronger and more beneficial mentoring experience for their children can be viewed as a “mission-critical” aspect of the work. Given the amount of control and influence parents have over youth, failing to effectively engage parents can often be the same as failing to engage the mentee themselves. Even in site-based programs where parents are not required to actively facilitate mentees’ participation, a parent that is disconnected from, or even hostile to, the mentoring experience can severely limit what their child gains from the relationship. Researcher Jean Rhodes theorized well over a decade ago that the outcomes of mentoring relationships were mediated (in significant part) by improvements in mentees’ relationships with their parents and others. So at the very least, a failure to engage parents might be keeping a program, and the youth they serve, from achieving maximum impact.

Unfortunately, the direct research on this aspect of running a program has provided limited evidence of its importance or in the most effective strategies for increasing parent engagement. As noted in the NMRC review, this practice has been rated as “Insufficient Research” at this point. But ask most practitioners and program staff and they will tell you that parent engagement strategies are near the top of their list in terms of pressing needs. Preliminary results from MENTOR’s 2016 National Mentoring Program Survey show that parent and family engagement is the third largest area of need reported by programs (after fundraising and sustainability planning and mentor recruitment). While the hard evidence may be elusive, the field recognizes that their engagement of parents can be improved.

So what can we draw from the research that will help mentoring programs do this more effectively? There are a few hints at effective strategies in the studies referenced in the main review:

Communicate clearly at key points in the match

Many of the programs studied in this review brought parents into main decision points and key moments throughout the lifecycle of program participation: facilitating their child’s enrollment in the program, being involved in the matching process, participating in post-match support, and supporting the eventual closure and dissolution of their child’s mentoring relationship. Each of these points represents a chance for parents to have some agency and direct involvement in how their child experiences mentoring. Programs should look at how youth participate in their services, from initial recruitment through matching and eventual transition out of the program, and think about ways they can maximize parent input and communication.

Communicate through a variety of formats

The programs studied in this review also employed a wide variety of communication strategies:

  • Orientation sessions for parents (and their children) where program goals, culture, and expectations can be clearly communicated and initial excitement about the experience can be built.
  • Parent handbooks and other materials that can provide rich and detailed information (even more potentially effective if this content is available in a variety of languages spoken in mentees’ homes).
  • Publicly posted event calendars and other key information mailed to the home.
  • Open houses and other group events throughout the year that give even parents of site-based mentees an opportunity to engage with program staff and their child’s mentor.
  • Ongoing check-ins, ideally in person, throughout the year. These check-ins can gather critical feedback about the program and are widely observed by those in the practice community to have considerable potential to add value to the mentoring relationship and associated youth outcomes by addressing parent fears, troubleshooting issues in the mentoring relationship, maximizing the communication between mentor(s) and the mentee, and serving a key risk management function by getting other perspectives on the safety and suitability of the match.

    In fact, the 4th Edition of the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring™ specifies some core topics to check in with parents about on a frequent basis using a formal and documented procedure:

    • The mentoring activities their child has been engaged in
    • Growth they are seeing in their child as a result of the relationship
    • The quality of the mentoring relationship
    • Safety concerns
    • The quality of their communication with the mentor

    It’s worth noting that research on the importance of this practice and these specific topics is, as covered in the review, is quite limited and that the findings to date are not sufficient to designate family engagement as a “promising” practice based on evidence review standards employed by the Research Board of the National Mentoring Resource Center. But future research may confirm that these common staff-parent discussion points are helpful in helping parents facilitate their child’s participation and build a true “working alliance” with both program staff and their child’s mentor.

Exercise caution when thinking about how collaborative to be with parents

There are some hints in at least one of the studies in this review (Wheeler & DuBois, 2009) that giving parents too much say over match goals and activities may be detrimental to the relationship being as close or as long-lasting as one would hope. In that study, one of the strategies employed was to give parents a set list of ways they could support the mentoring relationship, which wound up, surprisingly, being negatively correlated with match retention at six months. Another strategy was to involve parents directly in helping the match set goals and determining how they would work towards those goals. This was also negatively correlated with match length. Programs face a tricky balance between giving parents opportunities to be involved in their child’s match without inserting themselves into the bond between the mentor and mentee or by being overly prescriptive about match goals or activities. The ideal state of parent engagement might be described as “supporting the duo without making it a trio.”

Put in the effort and don’t assume your mentors can handle all this collaboration themselves

One of the studies in the review (BBBS Canada, 2016) used an interesting approach: Providing mentors with a lengthy list of strategies they could use in better communicating and collaborating with parents. Not only did this approach fail to correlate with better outcomes in terms of match length, youth outcomes, or mentor retention, it was actually negatively associated with mentors’ perceived support from the program. One can imagine that these mentors may well have felt an increased burden to not only pour their time and energy into befriending a child, but then also do targeted strategies to build a deeper relationship with the youth’s parent or guardian.

This may be one area where program staff have to do some real hand-holding and facilitation to get the parent-mentor alliance up and running smoothly. Ideally, mentoring programs might have a dedicated “family liaison” who can help these working alliances thrive (although this practice by itself was not supported as effective in the Wheeler and DuBois study that included this approach). The good news is that the Herrera, DuBois, and Grossman “Role of Risk” study found that youth and family level of risk did not appear to negatively impact programs’ ability to do more frequent or meaningful parent communication and collaboration. An important take-away here may be that no matter who you serve in your mentoring program, the parents of the youth you serve can best be seen as potential allies and true partners in making the program a success. But, again, the available studies seem to hint that the level of effort and outreach by staff may play more of a significant role than simply arming mentors with more parent engagement strategies and setting them loose.

Implementation Resources

As noted in the review, there are several resources in the NMRC Resource Collection that can support the development of local-level parent engagement strategies, including:

For more information on research-informed program practices and tools for implementation, be sure to consult the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring™ and the "Resources for Mentoring Programs" section of the National Mentoring Resource Center site.

MARCH 6, 2017

Editor's Note: Several members of the NMRC Research Board participated in the 2017 National Mentoring Summit this past February, leading a research track that featured OJJDP-funded research and totaled 13 workshops across the multi-day event. We asked several Research Board members to share their key insights from the event based on a workshop they lead, an innovation they learned about, or a conversation they had with an attendee that made them think about the mentoring field in a new light. We will run several of these stories over the months of March and April in the NMRC blog to bring the Summit to life for those who could not attend.

In light of the increasing and widening social class divide present in the early 21st century, American families and their children are facing more challenges than ever before. Academic underachievement, a school-to-prison pipeline, and the opioid epidemic are just a few examples. As I led workshops, attended workshops, and connected with like-minded folks at the 2017 National Mentoring Summit, I was reminded of the opportunity we have in mentoring to create chances for connection, positive youth development, upward mobility, and quality of life. I was, however, also reminded that disparities in accessing mentoring relationships exist. As Robert Putnam describes in his book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, children from disadvantaged families are two to three times less likely to reach adulthood having had a positive relationship with a non-parental adult than children from more affluent families. We have a grand challenge ahead of us. How can we help ensure that all children experience a quality mentoring relationship, and hopefully more than one?

Published in NMRC Blog
Webinar Date: July 21, 2016


  • Dustianne North, Ph.D., M.S.W., California Mentoring Partnership
  • Jerry Sherk, M.A., California Mentoring Partnership
  • Sarah Schwarz, Ph.D., Suffolk University


Paper Build an Ideal Mentor for Mentees
Paper Training New Mentees
Paper MenteeSeries6
Paper Pet Peeves
Paper YouthBuild Mentee Training Toolkit
Paper Download the Presentation Slides

Published in Webinars
  • Description of Resource:

    This customizable Word document was originally designed for YouthBuild programs with the intention of providing information to parents, caregivers, and other supportive adults about the youth’s new relationship with a volunteer mentor. The handbook is designed to teach these other caring adults what the mentoring relationship is all about and how they can support the youth in developing and maintaining this new relationship. The resource is intended to help a program ensure that the other important adults in a mentee’s life are “on board” with the mentoring relationship and ready to support program goals.


    Provide information to parents and other caring adults in a mentee’s life about how they can support the mentoring experience.

    Target Population/Eligibility of Target Sites:

    Intended primarily for use in programs in which mentors and mentees are meeting out in the community, although some aspects may be applicable to other program models.

    Corresponding Elements of Effective Practice:

    Monitoring and Support

    Key Personnel:


    Additional Information:


  • Resource Name:

    Supporting YouthBuild Students in Mentoring Relationships


    YouthBuild USA National Mentoring Alliance


    YouthBuild USA National Mentoring Alliance

    Date of Publication:


    Resource Type:

    Resources for Mentees and Families

  • Evaluation Methodology:

    Resource has not been evaluated for effectiveness

    Evaluation Outcomes:

    Resource has not been evaluated for effectiveness

    Evaluation Validity:

    Resource has not been evaluated for effectiveness

  • Accessing and Using this Resource:

    The customizable Word version of the handbook can be found on the YouthBuild National Mentoring Alliance Website at:


  • References:


Supporting YouthBuild Students in Mentoring Relationships

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