Displaying items by tag: Prosocial behavior

Wednesday, 05 June 2019 08:59

Baloo and You

*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.

In considering the key takeaways from the research on this program that other mentoring programs can apply to their work, it’s useful to reflect on the features and practices that might have influenced its rating as “Promising” (that is, a program that shows some evidence that it achieves justice-related goals when implemented with fidelity).

1. Sometimes simpler is just fine.

One of the things that immediately sticks out about the Baloo and You program is how little is asked of mentors. As with any program, mentors must commit to regular, consistent meetings with their mentee, engagement in the type of activities the program expects, and all the other aspects of the program that the developers deemed to be important. But compared to most modern mentoring programs, the premise behind, and approach to, the work with mentees in this program is remarkably simple.

The program theorizes that when children are young (6- to 10-years-old in this case), certain relationships can offer corrective experiences and what the authors of the second study describe as “an enriched social environment.” The relationships in this program thus offer children a chance to experience new things, learn new life skills, and receive role modelling from a caring adult.

While that might sound like what a lot of mentoring programs offer youth, in reading the two evaluation papers associated with this program, one can’t help but be struck by just how straightforward and “under-stuffed” the program is in comparison to many mentoring programs. In this program, mentors spend one afternoon a week with their mentee engaging in joint activities, adapted to the needs of the child, including things like trips to the zoo, cooking a meal together, working on craft projects, playing sports, or just engaging in conversation. There appears to be no set curriculum, no talking points for mentors beyond just being developmentally appropriate, no skills training or other quasi-clinical activities drawn from other evidence-based interventions, no turning mentors into highly trained pseudo-social workers or therapists. The mentor and the kid just… hang out. They spend time together and through engaging in normal, everyday activities, the program hypothesizes that these young children will build critical life skills, such as being organized, problem solving, concentration, expressing empathy, and making good decisions. As one of the papers about the program puts it, Baloo and You is strongly grounded in the idea that learning is a byproduct, not something to be intently focused on and willed into existence through sheer effort and rigid tactics.

But it seems many mentoring programs today have gone in the opposite direction, training mentors in all kinds of developmental theory, the specific steps and actions of tightly implemented interventions, and all manner of “change talk” skills designed to elicit specific changes in the youth they are working with. They transform the simple “caring adult spending time with you” mentor archetype into a quasi-therapist/coach/teacher/social worker, stuffed to the brim with the latest research and clinically-derived tips for moving their mentee from point A to point B. These programs tend not to fully trust that the relationship itself—the simple and fun interactions between a mentor and a child—will actually result in anything meaningful. It is refreshing to read a description of a program like this that trusts that an empathic relationship with someone new is an ideal environment for children to learn and practice skills that will help them throughout their life. Mentors don’t need to be deliverers of anything beyond a fun, caring, and enjoyable relationship in which their mentee learns how to just be in the world, how to be their best self, and how to get along with others.

Now, the mentors in this program do get support from the program staff on how to customize the mentoring experience precisely for the things that their mentee needs to work on. But they also trust that the relationship itself is a sufficient form of intervention, something that is not often seen in today’s competitive funding environment where programs chase outcomes so intensively that the mentoring relationships sometimes don’t look much like mentoring relationships when all is said and done.

Obviously, this approach would very possibly not work well for older youth or for youth experiencing more serious challenges or needing very specific help. But Baloo and You starts young, with foundational aspects of being a healthy person, and trusts that a mentor will help that child just by hanging out and being a role model. As one of the study authors puts it, “in the concept of the ‘byproduct,’ countless indirect paths lead to the finish line.” And as these evaluations showed, these youth got to the finish line, not by getting dragged there by their mentors, but by being given the freedom to be a kid having fun and talking about stuff with a new caring adult. What a novel concept for a field that increasingly seems to be distrustful of simply giving a child some love and a good time.

2. Simple still needs support.

While it’s true that the mentors in Baloo and You were mostly free to just concentrate on being in the relationship and engaging in fun activities, there was more going on behind the scenes than that. As noted above, mentors met with staff who were professionals in education or psychology so that they could emphasize the right things when meeting with their mentees or come up with activities that would be specifically tailored to the needs of the young person. While it’s true that most of the activities mentors and youth engaged in could be described as “everyday activities” that doesn’t mean that they weren’t chosen with some intentionality in mind. An activity like baking cookies together could provide an opportunity to work on all kinds of things, such as being organized and following directions, cooperation and taking turns, concentrating on the task at hand, and exercising patience (don’t eat the raw dough!).

One of the neat things the program did to facilitate these check-ins and allow the mentors to get input from more knowledgeable child development experts was to ask each of them to keep a diary about how the match was going, specific challenges expressed by the mentee, and areas where they felt like they could need some guidance. These diary entries were instrumental in letting the program staff know what was working and how they could offer specific suggestions for activities that might give children additional opportunities to work on areas of need.

The diary entries also provided amazing content for use in the program evaluation that shed light into how exactly the activities of the relationships were helping youth grow and learn those valuable life skills. For example, diary entries around arts and crafts and cooking activities illustrated just how children were learning organizational skills. In fact, coupled with other data, they were able to show that the more often children engaged in those activities, the less often they did things like forgetting to bring their books to school. Other programs may consider having mentors fill out diaries or other robust activity reporting forms as a way of knowing what’s happening under the surface of relationships.

3. Good examples of evaluation designs that fit the program.

The two evaluations of the Baloo and You program offer a few interesting wrinkles that other practitioners could learn from and mirror in their programs.

  • Good strategies for getting reliable information from younger children – One of the challenges in serving younger children like this program does is how to get reliable and accurate information from children who may struggle with concepts being asked about, may face challenges in filling out pencil and paper scales, or simply might struggle to reflect on their experiences. The Kosse paper in particular has a nice section describing how they did interviews with the children and how they used games and other interactive play to do things like establish baseline assessments and show gains at the end of the program. Programs working with younger children might learn some interesting techniques from these articles.

  • The value of multiple control groups – One of the most interesting aspects of the Kosse article is the use of two control/comparison groups—youth from low socio-economic status (SES) households (which mirrored the treatment youth) and youth from high SES households. The researchers obviously wanted to know if the program could improve mentees’ prosocial behaviors in comparison to their peers, but they also hypothesized that mentees might wind up, through the relationship offered in the program, “catching up” to youth growing up in higher SES households (where they theorized that youth would have access to more caring adult relationships and opportunities to build strong prosocial skills in a variety of settings).

    Sure enough, the mentored youth did outperform their low-SES peers and were essentially indistinguishable, even at the two-year follow up, from their higher SES classmates in terms of their prosocial behavior. But credit the evaluators with digging deeper. They also examined the results of the program through the lens of the mothers’ own prosocial behaviors. While it is true that mothers from low-SES households did tend to score lower on measures of prosocial behaviors, it is entirely possible that high-SES children can also find themselves in homes where the adults fail to provide sufficient interactions and activities to build prosocial skills. This provides a more nuanced view of who might benefit from the program than just household income. And as predicted the findings showed that children whose mothers displayed low levels of prosociality were most likely to benefit from the program, illustrating that the work with the mentors offered these youth something that could fill in gaps in what they were perhaps not receiving in the home.

    By using multiple comparison groups and by examining factors beyond simple SES status, the program was able to unpack some of the mechanisms of change at the heart of the program and learn quite a bit about the types of youth who might benefit most from the program moving forward.

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.

Wednesday, 05 June 2019 09:02

Baloo and You

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on February 12, 2019

Program Summary

This is a mentoring program for disadvantaged elementary school children that aims to enrich their social environment and enable their acquisition of new skills through an authentic relationship with a caring adult. This program was rated Promising. The findings show a statistically significant improvement in the prosocial behavior of the children assigned to the intervention, compared with children in the control group.

This program’s rating is based on evidence that includes at least one high-quality randomized controlled trial.

You can read the full review on CrimeSolutions.gov.


Monday, 22 October 2018 12:39

Coaching for Communities

*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.

In considering the key takeaways from the research on this program from the UK that other mentoring programs here in the United States can apply to their work, it’s useful to reflect on the features and practices that might have influenced its rating as “Promising” (that is, a program that shows some evidence that it achieves justice-related and other goals when implemented with fidelity).

1. The value of process evaluation as a precursor to outcome evaluation.

Perhaps the most interesting wrinkle of the evaluation of Coaching for Communities (CfC) is the two distinct phases of the work, with one having a major influence on the other. The team conducting the evaluation realized early in their observation of the program and the planning for the evaluation that the program was being implemented inconsistently across multiple sites and that this would make it challenging to determine how well the program was working. These inconsistencies covered everything from how youth (and which youth) were referred to the program, a burdensome and lengthy assessment process that left youth and parents feeling discouraged about the program, a lack of a theory of change that would inform the content of the mentoring activities, and the lack of a clear program manual to guide the actions of staff and the volunteer mentor role.

So rather than dive directly into an outcome evaluation that would likely yield little information of value, the research team spent considerable time working with program staff to address these gaps and in their words “tighten up” the program before moving on with any kind of evaluation of outcomes. Other programs are well advised to build this type of “tune-up” into any evaluation planning. Not only can it address gaps in service delivery that might influence eventual outcomes, but it can also ensure that processes are in place to ensure proper data collection and true “apples-to-apples” comparisons across multiple sites of the same program. It also ensures that the program is being studied in as close to an idealized version as is possible at the time, an important factor when trying to answer questions about whether the program, as conceived, is a worthy investment.

2. Sometimes the curriculum matters as much as the personal support of a mentor.

Coaching for Communities offers an interesting model for reaching young people: a five-day residential stay during which the youth put in a lot of time learning about themselves and building prosocial skills, followed by 9 months of follow-up with a community mentor and a monthly meeting where the pair also meets with program staff to engage in more teaching and learning and work toward youth-identified goals. What practitioners in other programs may want to replicate or at least mirror in their own work with youth exhibiting problem behavior is the content of the “coursework” the youth engaged in during the residential phase and beyond. While the evaluation report doesn’t do into too much detail about the “distinction-based learning” that happens in the program, it does describe some of the topics covered: a youth’s relationship to rules, the importance of giving and keeping one’s word, learning from past experience, distinguishing fact from interpretation, the power of past experiences on actions taken in the present, handling breakdowns and crisis moments better, and, most appropriate given the nature of the program, the role and value of a coach. These topics seem designed to get youth thinking about their own decision-making processes, how they respond to stressful situations, how they can better navigate and understand relationships with others, and the critical step of understanding how their own pasts and trauma can influence their reactions and motivations today. These all seem like critical things to address when working with young people who have already had some involvement in delinquency and who could easily repeat their mistakes without a better understanding of their own selves and an examination of what leads to their occasional antisocial behaviors.

The program supplements this residential phase teaching with ongoing curriculum-driven content at the monthly follow-up meetings youth attend with their mentors, where topics such as personal aspirations, teamwork, self-expression, and relationship building are covered.

The program offers a pretty high-touch approach to the mentor’s support, with the mentor checking in a minimum of three times a week, either in-person or over phone/text/email. That’s a lot of contact. Unfortunately, neither the volume nor quality of interactions with the mentor were predictive of who appeared to benefit from the program or how much. However, the number of trainer-led monthly meetings the young person attended did show an association with improvements in a number of key outcome areas. This implies that the parts of the program in which youth were exposed to the curriculum and the guided topics did play a role in changing their attitudes and behaviors. Many practitioners firmly believe that in mentoring the relationship itself is the intervention. And while that may be true to a large degree, it’s worth remembering that youth who are experiencing negative circumstances and challenges in navigating them successfully will probably need more than a friend. They likely will need opportunities to learn and grow and change their thinking in the ways that this curriculum was designed to facilitate.

3. Using evaluation to think about the optimal client.

The evaluation report for this program has a great discussion section where the authors try and make sense of the findings. Why did the program work for some youth but not others? And why did some outcomes shine through while others showed no impact from the services provided? Ultimately, they conclude that the program may work best for youth who are early in their involvement in juvenile justice, or as they put it in the report, “are displaying high levels of anti-social behaviour at home, in school or in the community but who have not yet been excluded or arrested and have not yet developed a persistent use of drugs, alcohol or other substances.” They go on to conclude that “targeting the programme at young people whose anti-social behaviour is the product of low self-esteem, poor affect and low emotional well-being (three areas where CfC makes a difference) would seem advisable.”

These types of evaluations often find subgroup differences that indicate the program is working for some youth better than others. Programs are then faced with a choice about strengthening aspects of the program so that is reaches those who are not benefitting or admitting that the program is really best designed for some youth and prioritizing their recruitment and involvement moving forward. And while the authors of the study recommend doing the latter here so that the program can have maximum impact on at least some youth, they also recognize that this approach may not be possible given the funding environment in which the program is operating. They note that the government agencies that fund this and similar programs tend to “expect provider agencies to be flexible, altering the target group to suit local needs, and adapting the programme to fit with broader children’s services provision.” They further note that this flexibility, while appealing on paper, will fundamentally “alter the underlying logic model and greatly reduce the potential impact on the outcomes for children and young people.”

We see this tension play out in much of the mentoring world in the United States. We have many programs that serve a wide variety of youth with similarly varied levels and types of needs and these programs often have trouble demonstrating their impact in evaluations seemingly at least in part because they are trying to be all things to all people. More focused programs working with specific youth populations on a narrower range of issues often show impressive results, but have questions about scalability and efficient or equitable distribution of scarce resources. It’s interesting in the case of Coaching for Communities that the authors note that the success of the program in this evaluation might deepen the investment in the program, but also cause it to be replicated somewhat carelessly without fidelity to what was proved to “work” here.

This is a conundrum that all practitioners should think about when heading into an evaluation. If we get good results only for some youth, how will we handle that? Will our funders understand that nuance? How can we then expand or change responsibly in the wake of such findings? The study authors end with a salient point around this that both practitioners and funders in mentoring would be wise to heed:

“Many providers are, like Youth at Risk, small charitable organizations whose survival depends on decisions made by more powerful government authorities. Short-term bravery to find out if their interventions are effective is possible when funded by philanthropy. But long-term and sustained change requires a change in approach by the people who decide on how to use programmes like CfC.”

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.

Monday, 22 October 2018 12:43

Coaching for Communities

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on October 15, 2018

Program Summary

This is a mentoring program for youth who show low levels of antisocial behavior. This program was rated Promising. Youth in the program had statistically significant improvements in offending behavior, antisocial behavior, negative affect, association with antisocial peers, emotional well-being, and involvement in education or employment, compared with youth in the control group, but not in volume of offending behavior, use of alcohol or drugs, impulsivity, or aspirations for the future.

You can read the full review on CrimeSolutions.gov.


KLFKnoxville Leadership Foundation (KLF) is a 501(c)(3), faith-based, nonprofit organization formed in 1994 to serve a nine-county East Tennessee area. KLF’s mission is to engage organizations and individuals to collectively serve those in need—those who are vulnerable due to lack of education, employment, or resources necessary to overcome challenges. Since 2004, KLF has operated Amachi Knoxville, a mentoring program with documented success and a passionate response to the needs of children with one or both parents in prison. KLF is a member of Leadership Foundations, an international network of over 45 affiliates working to renew the most economically distressed areas in cities across the world.

A Collaborative Approach to Mentoring

KAMIThe Knoxville Area Mentoring Initiative (KAMI) is a collaborative mentoring project built on the resources of some of the strongest mentoring organizations in East Tennessee. KAMI is led by Knoxville Leadership Foundation (KLF) through their program Amachi Knoxville and with partners Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Tennessee (BBBS), Joy of Music School (JOMS), Girls on the Run of Greater Knoxville (GOTR) and the YMCA. The collective mentoring activities focus on various topics such as sports, nature, technology, building up self-esteem, the performing arts and traditional community-based mentor activities. It is because of this variety in programmatic activity that these partnering organizations knew a collaborative mentoring model would show the collective impact of their efforts.

One of the goals of the collaborative is to leverage the combined resources of its member programs to increase the number of mentoring relationships in the region, while increasing the efficiency, consistency and quality of staff and mentor trainings. But this approach also provides great benefits for the youth served across the member programs. Because of the collaborative, KAMI staff have the ability to recommend the program that best aligns with each mentee’s specific interests, such as sports or the arts, to ensure the most successful match possible. Additionally, KAMI has increased pro-social support for mentees, provided more opportunities for the mentees to engage in community activities, and created a broader mentoring network in the region.

Program Goals

The primary goals of the initiative are to highlight the importance of mentoring, to bring awareness to the collaborating organizations, support new mentor growth, as well as improve social support networks among participating mentees. KAMI works together to strengthen the existing mentoring activities of each partnering organization to improve behavior, attitudes, and outcomes for at-risk youth by connecting them with trained mentors in 12 East Tennessee counties, constituting a mix of urban and rural communities.

Building the Framework for a Successful Mentoring Collaborative

KAMI In order to build a framework that would help KAMI succeed as a mentoring collaborative, trust between the partners would have to be established. KLF established a KAMI advisory committee with leaders from each partnering organization and began meeting every two weeks. This provided each committee member with the opportunity to learn more about each other and their respective mentoring programs. The committee looked for similarities between the organizations in order to give them a starting point for future activities. Then, using components of the Elements of Effective Practice for MentoringTM  they began to build their model.

Through this focus on the Elements, they developed a mentor recruitment plan and for the first time in Knoxville, a mentor could go to one website (http://www.knoxmentoring.org) to learn about mentoring options. Through the website, potential mentors are able to complete an interest form that helps to identify mentoring options available based on their interests. The committee identified minimum standards for a mentor that all collaborative organizations would endorse. They also put forth pre-match standards to provide an adequate education for each organization’s mentors. As they collectively worked on each of these enhancements, trust began to deepen, collaborative trainings and events were held, and knowledge and resources were shared to help collaborative members better navigate any issues with mentors and mentees.

KLF’s staff manage and oversee the KAMI collaborative. The collaborative team is made up of highly capable and experienced staff with expertise in specific areas, contributing to a highly functioning team. Each of the other four partner organizations assign staff to KAMI to ensure the partnership is functioning effectively and efficiently. Additionally, each partner has supporting staff that ensure the uniqueness of their organization is held intact while achieving both their individual organizations’ goals and the goals of KAMI. KLF has found that in a collaboration, clearly defined roles and responsibilities of each partner creates a healthy and functioning team.

Program Outcomes

KAMIBy joining forces and working together, KAMI has strengthened the mentoring presence in East Tennessee and the surrounding area. Collectively, KAMI has matched 1,432 at-risk children with a caring adult mentor and hosted 9 family fun days in just eighteen months. The collective knowledge of mentoring partners has allowed them to be more effective and bolder in their efforts to create and foster mentoring opportunities. Mentees have gained a broader vision of the cultural activities available in their community, from theater to sports. Mentors have increased knowledge of the issues that youth face and how they can make an impact. East Tennessee now has a collective relational support system of five organizations that can offer guidance to youth and their mentors, equipping them to face challenges and build strong relationships. Lastly, the collaborative has helped its member programs focus on their collective mission of creating a healthy community where East Tennessee youth can thrive.

Connections to Evidence-Based Practice

KAMI has experienced program success through their use of evidence-based best practices outlined in the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring TM (the Elements). KAMI staff received technical assistance (TA) from OJJDP’s National Mentoring Resource Center (NMRC) to facilitate trainings on the Elements. These trainings focused on recruitment and match support, as well as training on overcoming unconscious bias and addressing racial bias in mentoring relationships. This kicked off several months of ongoing training for staff, mentors, and caregivers with a focus on trauma-informed care, suicide prevention, domestic abuse, and the opioid epidemic. Efforts were also made to ensure that trainings helped adults understand the specific experiences, interests and contexts of the program’s youth, like discussions on what music mentees are listening to.

The KAMI Advisory Board, as well as site coordinators, traveled to Washington D.C. for the 2018 National Mentoring Summit convened by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. The Summit provided the collaborative with the opportunity to learn and engage in recent research-based and evidence-based mentoring elements. It also served as a time for KAMI partners to bond and build better relationships, and promote collaboration among members.

Next Steps


Through this invaluable work, KLF has learned a tremendous amount about working in a collaborative. KLF has taken the first step in this process by building a strong, trusting relationship between five organizations. Each organization has grown in their mentoring and match components; however, they look forward to increasing training opportunities, improving on collaborative recruitment approaches and continuing to find ways to streamline their work together.

With opioids ravaging East Tennessee, KAMI plans to empower mentee families, caretakers and mentors to help battle this epidemic. Poverty has increased in and around their communities, and KAMI has made a commitment to give their mentees hope and opportunity for their future.

Because of KAMI, mentors are better trained to deal with the issues their mentees face as they continue serving a growing number of children in the Knoxville area.

Related Resources

Published in Featured Grantees
Friday, 19 August 2016 10:22

Rochester Resilience Project

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on September 10, 2014

Program Summary

A school-based intervention to improve the social-emotional and behavioral skills of young children (K – 3rd grade) at risk for mental health disorders and substance abuse. This program is rated Promising. The program had a significant, positive effect on measures of children’s task orientation, behavior control, assertiveness, and peer social skills. The program was also associated with a significant decline in the average numbers of suspensions and office disciplinary referrals.

You can read the full review on CrimeSolutions.gov.

Monday, 20 October 2014 09:10

Rochester Resilience Project

*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 Crime Solutions website.

In considering the key takeaways from the research on this program that other mentoring programs can apply to their work, it’s useful to reflect on features and practices might have influenced its rating as “Promising” (that is, a program that shows encouraging, but not definitive evidence of effectiveness).

Can a mentoring program with some non-traditional components be effective?

When looking at the research on the Rochester Resilience Project, it becomes immediately clear that this program is structured and delivered in a way that sets it apart from many youth mentoring programs. The mentors in this program are not volunteers, but rather are paraprofessionals (school district employees), trained to deliver a very specific curriculum intended to produce specific behavioral changes in children who are struggling with regulating their emotions and emotional reactions to conflict. Rather than spending the majority of their time engaged in activities intended to build trust and bonding, these mentors, are all tasked with using a curriculum to deliver a series of hierarchically-ordered skills trainings to their mentees in weekly, 25-minute one-on-one sessions. With 111 children in the intervention group in this research, it is assumed that each mentor was working with over 25 students. Over the course of the 14 weeks of the program, each student met with his or her mentor for approximately only seven total hours. The short duration, emphasis of sequential activities, the tightly-focused curriculum, the mentor-mentee ratio, and paid professional status of the mentors are all elements that differ from what we typically see in school-based mentoring programs.

But results from evaluations of programs like this should get practitioners thinking about how their mentoring programs produce results and challenging some assumptions about what mentoring “should” look like to be effective. It’s worth noting, for example, that this program utilizes a curriculum built on a wealth of research on how children can manage their emotions, understand the emotions of others, and change their behavior to avoid conflicts with peers and teachers. Rather than assuming that mentors will inherently have impactful conversations about these topics, this program uses a set curriculum that addresses: 1) Monitoring of one’s own and others’ emotions; 2) Self-control and reducing escalation of emotions; and 3) Skills for maintaining control and equilibrium. If mentoring programs really want to produce targeted outcomes, it’s worth considering the integration of targeted curricula and more structured meetings, rather than working from the assumption that positive outcomes will inherently flow from a positive mentoring relationship.

Can mentoring work with younger students?

In the case of the Rochester Resilience Project, the answer seems to be yes. Most school-based mentoring programs seem to serve students starting in about grade 5, with middle and high school students being perhaps the most common age ranges. There are several reasons for this: younger students may not have displayed the behavioral or attitudinal challenges that mentoring could address and young children may be less well-equipped developmentally to understand the role and value of a mentor. But this program targeted children in the K-3 range and produced significant impacts. When working with children of this age, a hierarchical curriculum like the one used here may be a key factor in producing results. A curriculum like this builds skills slowly and sequentially, allowing the student to absorb and understand a lesson and then practice new skills in the classroom setting. The close coordination of the lessons with teachers, intended to enlist teachers in reinforcing the skills being taught back in the classroom setting, may also have been a key to making this program work for younger students.

Can focusing on social-emotional skills pay off in the classroom?

This program targets young students who have just begun showing the kinds of emotional and behavioral problems that would lead to classroom and academic struggles down the road. In some ways, this is a very early intervention for these students, an attempt to teach and build skills for regulating emotions and behaviors that, ideally, will serve these students over their long journey through the school system. In the short term, the mentored students stayed on task in the classroom more than their non-mentored peers and had fewer disciplinary issues and suspensions. So clearly this program had an immediate impact on classroom behavior and positioning these students for more success at school. By helping these children learn to manage their emotions and behaviors more effectively, the program may have set the stage for a lifetime of better behavior and stronger relationships with peers and adults, both in and out of school. It would be wonderful to see a long-term follow up with these students to see if indeed their new skills and ways of behaving have a lasting effect later in elementary school and beyond.

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 "Resourcessection of the National Mentoring Resource Center site.

S.L.I.Y.The Saving Lives & Inspiring Youth (S.L.I.Y.) project is a cross age peer mentoring program in which high school youth from severely disadvantaged communities in Chicago have the opportunity to mentor younger peers over the course of one year. This program, funded by the Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and managed by Loyola University Chicago, began in late 2014 and currently serves the communities of Bronzeville, Englewood, South Lawndale and North Lawndale. The overarching goals of this project are to foster positive youth development and reduce negative outcomes related to violence exposure among African- and Latino-American youth from low-income, urban neighborhoods. By providing constructive spaces for peers at different developmental stages to learn from each other on a long-term basis, S.L.I.Y. strives to capitalize on the value of culturally relevant peer influence in order to help lower rates of youth violence and increase pro-social influences. Matching peers based on their shared environment and gender, as well as at least a two-year age gap, is expected to enhance trust, empathy, and connection within each pair, thus accelerating and strengthening these mentoring relationships. S.L.I.Y creates a much-needed positive social network with the opportunity to continue spontaneously in the communities it serves, advancing its goal of becoming a sustainable intervention for youth living amidst numerous stressors.

Mentoring Model

LoyolaS.L.I.Y. is a cross-age peer mentoring program that was established in 2015 with a grant from OJJDP. The Risk and Resilience Lab at Loyola University Chicago is designing, implementing and simultaneously evaluating this mentoring program, which serves over 300 youth, including 142 mentors (38% males, mean age = 17) and 159 mentees (48% male; mean age = 12). The program has been implemented at six sites across three low-income, high violence neighborhoods in Chicago and is starting in a fourth. Each site is based at a location in the community that is easily accessible to mentors and mentees, including elementary and high schools, churches, and organizations offering after-school programs.

The goal of the program is to build relationships between middle-school-aged youth and high-school youth within the same communities, encouraging positive youth development and learning from one another. Mentor-mentee matches meet once per week for one hour, engaging in program curriculum designed by a multidisciplinary team with input from youth in the program. Following each mentoring session, mentors debrief with staff for an hour. In addition, there are periodic programs to enhance social and cultural opportunities for S.L.I.Y. youth, whose environments lack healthy recreation and social support resources. Because mental health care is so sparse in the communities that S.L.I.Y. serves, and because multiple experiences with victimization and trauma are so prevalent, S.L.I.Y. also provides crisis intervention counseling sessions to students who demonstrate the most serious need.

S.L.I.Y utilizes mentoring best practices and a systematic curriculum, which is regularly adjusted based on youth feedback, and which will be available to practitioners interested in implementing this model. In addition to operating the program, its developers are evaluating the impacts of S.L.I.Y. through a research evaluation study. In addition to multiple types of qualitative data, quantitative data are collected from both participants and matched non-participants at three time points.

The program and research study are run by Dr. Maryse Richards (Department of Psychology) and Dr. Katherine Tyson-McCrea (School of Social Work) of Loyola University Chicago. Project staff are comprised of post-baccalaureates and graduate and undergraduate students from multiple disciplines, including social work, psychology, sociology, political science, business, and biology. Each staff member is trained in their respective roles and receives ongoing development in trauma-informed group and individual services and clinical consultation.

Staff work to build partnerships with community organizations in order to recruit high school students as mentors for the program. Mentors are chosen based on interviews and recommendations from school staff or community collaborators. They receive a multi-part training on civic engagement, communication skills, conflict management, positive youth development, and relationship-building. In addition to these trainings, mentors receive ongoing instruction and support during the one-hour debriefing sessions following each mentoring session, with topics such as communication skills and stress management.

By utilizing mentors and mentees from similar backgrounds who are close in age, the cross-age peer mentoring model addresses some of the limitations of one-to-one, youth-adult mentoring relationships, which include limited mentor time, generational gaps, and differences in backgrounds and relatable experiences. Engaging high school students as mentors allows both the mentors and mentees to benefit from the same resources. S.L.I.Y. seeks to maximize its impact by developing partnerships with individuals and organizations within the community, which lays the groundwork for continuing the program long-term.

Furthermore, by taking a participatory action research approach, the model allows for mentors and community collaborators to engage in the research process, thus improving the validity of findings, building the human capital of participants, and harnessing media for positive goals. Mentors and community collaborators are co-authoring manuscripts, contributing to conference submissions, presenting research findings in both academic and community settings, building website content, and developing pictures of the program through a photovoice project that S.L.I.Y. youth and their mentors created to illustrate the impact of this program.

In addition to building a strong bond between mentors and mentees, the program seeks to improve attitudes towards other youth, leadership skills, self-esteem, self-efficacy, ethnic identity, beliefs about aggression, sense of community at school, future expectations, perceived friendships, and available activities in the neighborhood, as well as reduce mental illness for both mentors and mentees.

S.L.I.Y. Program Evaluation Findings to Date

Mentee outcomes: Over the course of 1 year in the program, higher program attendance has led to strengthened bonds with mentors, increased sense of school community, increased self-esteem, and a strengthened sense of ethnic identity. Additionally, program attendance has predicted an increase in beliefs about non-violence as an effective problem solving strategy, particularly for boys.

Mentor outcomes: After 6 months in the program, higher attendance has predicted increased awareness of activities in mentors’ community, as well as overall more positive perceptions of their neighborhood environment. Additionally, higher attendance has predicted better future expectations and increased perceived social support for boys. The strength of the relationship that mentors have with their mentees has also predicted outcomes in the program—as the relationship grows stronger over the course of the program, mentors are more likely to report better expectations for their future, as well as fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Connections to Evidence-Based Practice

S.L.I.Y.The cross-age peer mentoring model is supported by several youth development theories. Using peer mentors as opposed to adult mentors has been shown to increase ratings of connectedness to school, teachers, or parents (Karcher, 2005; Karcher, Davis, & Powell, 2002; Westerman, 2002), academic achievement (Karcher et al., 2002; Westerman, 2002), graduation rates among Latino-American males (Johnson, Simon, & Mun, 2014), social skills and social competence (Karcher, 2005; Herrera, Kauh, Cooney, Grossman, & McMaken, 2008), behavioral problem reduction (Bowman & Myrick, 1987), positive classroom behaviors, and healthier attitudes about violence (Sheehan, DiCara, LeBailly, & Christoffel, 1999). Mentors themselves, like those from Big Brothers, Big Sisters, have shown improvements in interpersonal skills, personal abilities (e.g., being responsible, reliable, and organized), knowledge of child development, and leadership abilities (Herrera et al., 2008).

This model also functions using the principles of the Positive Youth Development Theory (Larson, 2000; Benson, Scales, Hamilton, & Semsa, 2006), the Social Development Model (O'Donnell, Michalak, & Ames, 1997; Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992), and Social Interest Theory (Crandall, 1975), all of which stress the importance of the protective power of engaging in meaningful pro-social activities. Overall, this intervention stems from the view that peer mentoring is a sustained, long-term relationship in which the older peer guides the younger mentee’s development in interpersonal skills and self-esteem while creating a sense of connectedness and positive attitudes (Karcher, 2005). The mentoring dosage and organizational support in these types of programs are crucial factors for success (Karcher, 2006). The current S.L.I.Y. project is a modified version of the StandUp!HelpOut! (SUHO) program in which younger youth developed healthy ways to express emotions, mature values, and a more optimistic conception of their future through the empathic and trusting mentoring connection (Bulanda & McCrea, 2012). The youth empowerment, participatory, culturally-relevant, and intensively supportive emphases of the program have shown promise in improving youth engagement, which has been a thorny problem for social and mental health services in impoverished, highly stressed communities (Bulanda & McCrea, 2012; Guthrie, Ellison, Sami, & McCrea, 2014).

Next Steps for S.L.I.Y.

The staff of S.L.I.Y. plan to further implement and sustain the cross-age peer mentoring model at additional sites within the four Chicago communities it currently serves. Academic as well as community-friendly publications and presentations will be disseminated in order to spread awareness of this project, its outcomes, and the best practices that have been developed over the course of implementation. S.L.I.Y. plans to incorporate youth feedback as their important contributions, including their website and photo-documentary, are completed and shared with their communities.

For more information, visit the Risk and Resilience Lab’s S.L.I.Y. website at: http://riskandresiliencelab.weebly.com/mentoring-program.html

You can view S.L.I.Y.’s youth website, which features spoken word, music, poetry and other works created by S.L.I.Y. youth, here: http://savinglivesinspiringyouth.weebly.com

Related NMRC Resources:

Additional Resources:


Benson, P. L., Scales, P. C., Hamilton, S. F., & Sesma, A. (2006). Positive youth development: Theory, research, and applications. Handbook of Child Development. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Bowman, R. P., & Myrick, R. D. (1987). Effects of an elementary school peer facilitator program on children with behavior problems. The School Counselor, 34(5), 369-378.

Bulanda, J. and McCrea, K. Tyson. (2012 online, in print, 2013). “The promise of an accumulation of care: Disadvantaged African-American youths’ perspectives about what makes an after school program meaningful.” Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 30, 95-118. Doi: 10.1007/s10560-012-0281-1.

Crandall, J. E. (1975) A scale for social interest. Journal of Individual Psychology, 31, 187-195.

Guthrie, D., Ellison, V., Sami, K., and McCrea, K. Tyson. (2014). “Clients’ hope arises from social workers’ compassion: Young clients’ perspectives on surmounting the obstacles of disadvantage.” Families in Society 95 (2). Doi: 10.1606/1044-3894.2014.95.14.

Hawkins, J. D., Catalano, R. F., & Miller, J. Y. (1992). Risk and protective factors for alcohol and other drug problems in adolescence and early adulthood: Implications for substance abuse prevention. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 64–105.

Herrera, C., Kauh, T. J., Cooney, S. M., Grossman, J. B., & McMaken, J. (2008). High School Students as Mentors: Findings from the Big Brothers Big Sisters School-Based Mentoring Impact Study. Public/Private Ventures.

Johnson, V. L., Simon, P., & Mun, E. Y. (2014). A peer-led high school transition program increases graduation rates among Latino males. The Journal of Educational Research, 107(3), 186-196.

Karcher, M. (2005). The effects of developmental mentoring and high school mentors’ attendance on their younger mentees’ self-esteem, social skills, and connectedness. Psychology in the Schools, 42, 65-77.

Karcher, M. J. (2006). What happens when high school mentors don’t show up? In L. Golden & P. Henderson (Eds.), Case studies in school counseling (pp. 44–53). Alexandria, VA: ACA Press.

Karcher, M. J., Davis, C., & Powell, B. (2002). The effects of developmental mentoring on connectedness and academic achievement. School Community Journal, 12(2), 35-50.

Larson, R. W. (2000). Toward a psychology of positive youth development. American Psychologist, 55(1), 170.

O'Donnell, J., Michalak, E. A., & Ames, E. B. (1997). Inner-city youths helping children: After-school programs to promote bonding and reduce risk. Social Work in Education, 19(4), 231– 241.

Sheehan, K., DiCara, J. A., LeBailly, S., & Christoffel, K. K. (1999). Adapting the gang model: Peer mentoring for violence prevention. Pediatrics, 104(1), 50-54.

Westerman, J. J. (2002). Mentoring and cross-age mentoring: Improving academic achievement through a unique partnership. Unpublished dissertation, University of Kentucky, Lexington.

Published in Featured Grantees
  • Evidence Rating for this Practice:

    Promising (2 Tests of the Practice in 2 Independent Studies)

    In one of the tests of the practice, the practice of preventing peer aggression was associated with better outcomes. In this test of the practice, the outcome evidence and the methodology used for assessing effects of the practice satisfied criteria for a designation of Promising. In the other test of the practice, the practice met criteria for conceptual framework, but had a small sample size which reduced the strength of the rating for design quality: the test of this practice was thus classified as Insufficient Information.

    Description of Practice:

    Preventing peer aggression, bullying, and victimization is based on intentional program efforts to develop behaviors, skills, and attitudes that reduce or prevent engagement in (1) aggressive or bullying behavior and (2) experiencing victimization by peers. While specific definitions vary, bullying behavior is generally understood to include unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves an imbalance of power (either real or perceived) and that is repeated over time. Bullying behaviors include threats, spreading rumors, verbal or physical attacks, and social exclusion (https://www.stopbullying.gov/). Drawing on prior research and theory, Elledge and colleagues defined peer victimization as repeated exposure to interactions with peers that involve an intent to harm, result in harmful effects on the recipient of these interactions, and are endorsed (explicitly or implicitly) by the peer group (Elledge, Cavell, Ogle, & Nugent, 2010).

    While participation in a mentoring program or relationship may be recommended as beneficial for youth who are engaging in bullying or aggressive behavior directed at peers, being victimized by peers, or both (“bully-victims”), the focus of this review is on explicit and intentional practices that are designed to increase young people’s ability to interact positively with their peers or to disrupt or change the overall peer ecology that forms the context for experiences of bullying, aggression, or victimization.


    The primary goal of the practice is to promote positive outcomes for the mentee by having their mentors, with program support, engage in activities that are designed to either (1) prevent or reduce aggressive or bullying behavior toward peers or (2) assist the youth in coping with the experience of peer victimization and cultivate social skills and relationships that enable the child to have more positive relations with their peers.

    Targeted Forms of Mentoring and Youth Populations:

    This practice is potentially applicable to all forms of mentoring with youth who are at risk for or are engaging in peer aggression or bullying behavior, or who are experiencing victimization by peers.

    Theory and Background Research:

    Prior research on outcomes of mentoring programs has shown effects on reducing aggressive behavior among youth. In the Big Brothers Big Sisters Impact Study (Tierney, Grossman & Resch, 1995), youth who were mentored were one-third less likely than youth in the non-mentored control group to have hit someone during the 12 months prior to follow-up assessment. In a recent meta-analysis conducted by Tolan and colleagues focusing on youth at risk for delinquency, mentoring was found to have a modest, but significant, effect on aggression, although the authors noted that this size of effect was comparable to other interventions targeting high-risk youth (Tolan, Henry, Schoeny, Lovegrove, & Nichols, 2014). Follow-up moderator analyses indicated that stronger effects on outcomes were observed when emotional support and advocacy were present as mentoring components. At present, however, there is a lack of research identifying and evaluating the specific mechanisms by which mentors may help their mentees reduce aggressive behavior.

    One interesting example is the Lunch Buddy program, which was originally developed as a control condition in a study of a mentoring intervention for aggressive children (Cavell & Hughes, 2000). In the original control condition, mentors met with children in the cafeteria over a short (30-minute) lunch period where other children were present, and children were paired with a different mentor for each of the three semesters of the study. Unexpectedly, results showed positive effects (decreases in both teacher-and parent-rated aggression) for both the treatment condition as well as this control condition. Cavell and colleagues (e.g., Cavell & Henrie, 2010) have suggested that the positive outcomes for Lunch Buddy mentoring resulted from the mentor’s interactions in the lunchroom creating positive changes in the peer ecology of the mentored children. The current mentor manual for Lunch Buddy mentoring (Cavell, n.d.) notes that the goals of the program are to increase mentees’ positive social interactions and to enhance their social reputation. As part of the manual, mentors are provided with several specific examples of strategies they can use to facilitate these goals, such as engaging other peers at the lunch table in conversations with the mentee.

    With regards to peer bullying and aggression, mentors may be able to leverage their relationship with youth to challenge beliefs that support bullying (e.g., victim blaming, hostile attributional biases, etc.) and to serve as a role model for non-aggressive social interactions. For youth who are experiencing victimization, mentors may be able to provide a supportive relationship in which they can assist youth in building positive relationships with other peers and instruct youth in the use of adaptive coping skills, which have been shown to be negatively impacted by peer victimization (Troop-Gordon, Sugimura, & Rudolph, 2017). Mentoring programs in which mentor-youth interactions take place in settings where youth interact with peers (e.g., schools) may enable mentors to witness peer interactions that involve either bullying or victimization and then be able to intervene directly in the youth’s peer ecology by responding within the social context to both their mentee and other youth. This kind of intervention is consistent with an ecological view of youth bullying (e.g., Espelage, 2014), which notes the importance of addressing ecological context, rather than focusing exclusively on individual behaviors, when addressing bullying. If mentors are working with children in a peer context, they may also have the capacity to have follow-up one-on-one interactions with their mentees using some of the strategies described above (e.g., developing adaptive coping strategies). The presence of the mentor as an adult monitor in social contexts may have the capacity to reduce bullying behavior simply by having an adult present in the context for peer interaction; furthermore, if the mentor is held in high regard by the peer group (either as an older peer or as a valued adult), the presence of the mentor may help build social capital for victimized youth, thus reducing their risk of being bullied (Elledge et al., 2010).

    Corresponding Elements of Effective Practice:

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

    Key Personnel:

    The successful implementation of this practice is likely to require staff to have a strong base of understanding of the dynamics of peer aggression/bullying and peer victimization and to be able to effectively communicate the rationale for the use of the related practices to improve the experience of their mentees in their relations with peers.

    Additional Information:


  • Study 1

    Evidence Classification: Insufficient Evidence

    Evaluation Methodology:

    Elledge and colleagues (2010) tested the effects of a school-based intervention, Lunch Buddy mentoring, using a quasi-experimental design, with a small sample (n = 12) of fourth and fifth grade children identified as experiencing peer victimization based on child and teacher ratings. From a larger study, a pool of 42 children were identified as being in the top 20% of peer victimization ratings. Principals and school counselors ranked the eligible children in terms of perceived risk and need for a mentor. Recruitment into the study group was based on a first-come-first-serve strategy as parents were contacted and consented. Two matched comparison groups of 12 students each were identified: one group from the same school and one from a different school. The comparison groups. The groups were established based on similarity on the child-teacher victimization index, gender, grade, and ethnicity.

    The intervention condition used the Lunch Buddy mentoring model, in which children are paired with a college student mentor who visits their mentee twice weekly during scheduled lunch times. In this study, mentoring took place during the spring semester of the school year. Girls were matched with female mentors and boys with either male or female mentors. Lunch Buddy mentors received two hours of training prior to the start of the program, and continued to meet weekly in small group sessions with a graduate student in order to discuss their mentoring experiences and problem-solve about challenging situations. For the mentoring sessions, mentors sat with their assigned child and his/her peers at the child’s regular assigned lunchroom table.

    Study outcomes were measured in the fall (prior to the start of the program) and at the end of the intervention period in the spring. Peer victimization was assessed by youth self-report, by peer report, and by teacher report. Analyses of covariance were used to examine group differences in peer victimization at post-test controlling for pretest scores.

    Evaluation Outcomes:

    Child Report of Victimization
    Elledge and colleagues (2010) reported that there were no significant differences between the study groups on child-reported peer victimization.

    Peer Report of Victimization
    Elledge and colleagues (2010) reported a significant group effect for peer reports of victimization. Follow-up analyses indicated that mentored children were viewed by their peers as significantly less bullied than children in the different school control condition.

    Teacher Report of Victimization
    Elledge and colleagues (2010) reported that the teacher ratings of victimization did not differ among the study groups.

    Study 2: Promising

    Evaluation Methodology:

    Sheehan and colleagues (1999) tested the effects of a peer mentoring intervention for violence prevention within the context of a larger community-based program in an urban neighborhood with a high level of community violence (The Cabrini Green Youth Program, CGYP). All of the adolescents (Aged 14-21) who participated in the CGYP’s Children Teaching Children (CTC) program served as peer mentors to younger children (aged 7-13) in the program. A comparison group (youth not currently participating in the CGYP) was recruited from the same community and matched on age, gender, and census tract.

    During the program, the adolescent peer mentors designed lessons to teach the younger mentees about violence prevention. Over the course of the 18-month program, 12 activities were produced in which information was provided through activities such as skits, games, and rap music.

    Outcome measures of interest were assessed at baseline, mid-study (9 months) and at the end of the intervention (18 months). Assessment of youth measures included child reports of exposure/attitudes to violence (Determining Our Viewpoint of Violent Events; DOVVE) and acceptance of aggression (Normative Belief About Aggression Scale; NOBAGS). Children were also rated by their teachers on the Revised Problem Behavior Checklist. Youth in the intervention program (n = 50) were compared with youth in the control condition (n = 75), although the sample size was reduced for both groups due to attrition.

    Evaluation Outcomes:

    Child Report of Exposure/Attitudes to Violence
    Sheehan and colleagues (1999) reported that at post-test, youth in the intervention group had significantly lower scores relative to the control group on the measure assessing exposure and attitudes to violence.

    Child Report of Acceptance of Aggression
    Sheehan and colleagues (1999) reported that at post-test, youth in the intervention group had significantly lower scores relative to the control group on the measure assessing acceptance of aggression.

    Teacher Report of Problem Behavior
    At post-test, Sheehan and colleagues (1999) reported teacher-reported scores of children’s problem behavior were significantly lower for the intervention group relative to the control group. The control group problem behavior scores increased over time, indicating higher ratings of problem behavior at post-test.

  • External Validity Evidence:

    Variations in the Practice
    The studies reviewed examined practices targeting children who were experiencing bullying or victimization by their peers (Elledge et al., 2010), and children who were identified as being at risk of engaging in aggressive behavior in their interactions with peers (Sheehan et al., 1999). Efforts to explicitly reduce the incidence of bullying behavior among youth have limited or no representation in the research to date. Conclusions about the effectiveness of this practice should therefore be limited to the specific behaviors that were the focus of the studies reviewed.

    Youth served by the programs that were the focus of the studies reviewed were from a variety of backgrounds and had varying levels of environmental and individual risks, including family low-income status or living in a single parent home. All programs in the studies reviewed targeted youth who were elementary or middle school-aged; the ages of mentees ranged from 7 to 13 years. The studies reviewed, however, did not test for differences in effect of strategies for preventing peer aggression, bullying, and victimization in relation to these types of youth characteristics, thus making the applicability of findings to different subgroups of youth unknown.

    All of the mentors represented in the studies reviewed were volunteers. One study used young adult mentors (college students; Elledge et al., 2010) and the other used adolescents between 14-21 years of age (Sheehan et al., 1999). The studies included in the review did not test for differences in effect of supports for youth thriving in relation to mentor characteristics, thus making the applicability of findings to different subgroups of mentors unknown.

    Program Settings/Structures
    The mentoring programs evaluating this practice have been U.S. based and either school-based or community-based. Positive effects of the practice have been evident in the context of both school- and community-based programs although these differed in their intervention targets (i.e., the school-based mentoring program focused on bullied children and the community-based program on acceptance of and engagement in aggressive behavior). While the school-based program was based on a one-to-one mentoring format, the community-based program used a small group of adolescents to serve as peer mentors for a larger group of youth, typically interacting in a group setting. Understanding of the effectiveness of the full range of practices for preventing peer aggression, bullying, and victimization in relation across the broader spectrum of potential program structures and settings (one-to-one versus group mentoring and school-based, community site-based, or community-based programs), however, is limited.

    One of the studies reviewed (Elledge et al., 2010) assessed youth outcomes specific to experiencing peer victimization (based on reports from the youth themselves, their teacher and their peers) and the second study assessed outcomes relevant to engagement in aggressive behavior (Sheehan et al., 1999). Findings have been varied in relation to both types of outcomes and outcomes in other domains (e.g., mental health, engaging in bullying behavior) have to date received limited or no consideration. There is thus little understanding of the extent to which effects of this practice may vary (or be similar) across different types of outcomes.

  • Resources Available to Support Implementation:

    While NMRC does not currently have resources specifically focused on strategies to reduce peer aggression, bullying, and victimization, resources addressing related issues can be found under the Resources section of this website. These resources include: the Peer Mentoring Handbook, Supporting Young People in the Wake of Violence and Trauma, Tools for Mentoring Adolescents, Ready to Go: Mentor Training Toolkit, Training New Mentors: Effective Strategies for Providing Quality Youth Mentoring in Schools and Communities, and the Search Institute’s REACH Resources Overview.

  • Evidence Base:

    Elledge, L. C., Cavell, T. A., Ogle, N. T., & Newgent, R. A. (2010). School-based mentoring as selective prevention for bullied children: A preliminary test. Journal of Primary Prevention, 31, 171-187. doi:10.1007/s10935-010-0215-7

    Sheehan, K., DiCara, J. A., LeBailly, S., & Christoffel, K. L. (1999). Adapting the gang model: Peer mentoring for violence prevention. Pediatrics, 104, 50-54. doi:10.1542/peds.104.1.50

    Additional References:

    Cavell, T. A. (n.d.). Peer Safety Project Mentor Manual. Retrieved from https://crav.uark.edu/about-the-projects

    Cavell, T. A., & Henrie, J. L. (2010). Deconstructing serendipity: Focus, purpose, and authorship in Lunch Buddy Mentoring. In G. G. Noam, M. J. Karcher, & M. J. Nakkula (Eds.), New directions for youth development: Theory, practice, and research (pp. 107-121). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    Espelage, D. L. (2014). Ecological theory: Preventing youth bullying, aggression, and victimization. Theory Into Practice, 53, 257-264. doi:10.1080/00405841.2014.947216

    Stopbullying.gov (n.d.). What is Bullying. Retrieved from https://www.stopbullying.gov/what-is-bullying/index.html

    Tierney, J. P., Grossman, J. B., & Resch, N. L. (1995). Making a Difference: An Impact Study of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures.

    Tolan, P. H., Henry, D. B., Schoeny, M. W., Lovegrove, P., & Nichols, E. (2014). Mentoring programs to affect delinquency and associated outcomes of youth at-risk: A comprehensive meta-analytic review. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 10, 179–206. doi:10.1007/s11292-013-9181-4.

    Troop-Gordon, W., Sugimura, N., & Rudolph, K. D. (2017). Responses to interpersonal stress: Normative changes across childhood and the impact of peer victimization. Child Development, 88, 640-657. doi:10.1111/cdev.12617

Insights for Practitioners

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

*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.

One of the more deflating experiences a young person can have in school or their community is to experience bullying at the hands of their peers. These experiences can erode feelings of self-worth and confidence, lead to issues with attendance and academic performance, and trigger both emotional problems such as depression and actual physical injury from violence. On the other side of that circumstance, those that bully other youth are often struggling with myriad problems and negative experiences themselves.

As noted in this practice review, there is some emerging evidence that mentoring can be an asset to both victims and perpetrators of bullying. We know from previous studies of mentoring programs that mentoring can reduce violent and aggressive behavior⎯for example, the 1995 Big Brothers Big Sisters Impact Study found that mentored youth were one-third less likely to have hit someone during the study timeframe and reported more positive interpersonal relationships with their peers. Perhaps the most comprehensive effort to link mentoring and aggressive behaviors is the meta-analysis of 39 programs conducted by Tolan, which found that some of the largest effects across programs were for reducing aggression towards others.

But Tolan also noted, as does the review here, that the mechanisms by which mentors help youth reduce their aggressive behavior towards others, including bullying their peers, are not very well understood and are under-researched. Thus, there is reason to think that mentors can be used in a targeted way to either prevent bullying by their mentees, reduce the likelihood of their mentees being bullied, or reduce the harm caused by bullies if their mentee is a victim. Up to now, we are lacking in clear insight and direction for practitioners on how to do that. Nevertheless, there are some hints in this review and other resources that might help practitioners and mentors address bullying in more direct and effective ways.

1. Start by learning more about the nature of bullying and the types of interventions and strategies that address it.

Bullying is a complex and multi-faceted issue that defies easy and simple solutions. It certainly is influenced by the characteristics and personalities of the youth involved but also many aspects of the physical environment, the culture and context of the school or space in which it is occurring, and the role and availability of adults in relation to the bullying behavior. As a mentoring program, finding ways to address the bullying behavior or victimization of the youth you serve may involve many strategies and even necessitate working with schools, parents, or other players in what can be thought of as the “ecology” of the bullying you seek to address.

The good news is that there is a fairly strong body of research on bullying prevention and there are many evidence-based practices and curricula available to schools and youth-serving organizations. As a mentoring program, you may find that a good first step in thinking about bullying prevention is to simply learn more about the effective practices for doing this work. A good starting point is this article from a leading scholar in the field: Translating Research to Practice in Bullying Prevention. It does a nice job of summarizing what is known about successful bullying prevention efforts and might give you some ideas about the role that your program and your mentors can play. The StopBullying.gov website also offers a wealth of information and tips for youth-serving professionals that want to learn more about bullying prevention strategies. In fact, they even offer a User Guide called Understanding the Roles of Youth Professionals and Youth Mentors in Community-Wide Bullying Prevention Efforts that offers practical tips for practitioners and mentors themselves on how they can prevent and address bullying.

2. Learn more about the bullying behaviors and experiences of your mentees.

One of the primary tips in that aforementioned user guide is to “assess bullying behaviors and attitudes” using a survey, focus groups, or one-on-one conversations. Finding the right solution and role for your mentors to play will be easier when you understand exactly who is experiencing bullying (or engaging in bullying), the impact that is having on them, and the severity of the situation. In fact, one of the programs in this review, Lunch Buddies, specifically targeted students who identified as being in the top 20% on a rating of peer victimization. Programs may find that only some of their mentees are experiencing bullying or that the bullying is centered on one school or part of the community, or that it consists of a particular behavior or focus.

Once programs have this information in hand, it can be much easier to figure out exactly how your mentors can help. In many cases, program leadership may need to work directly with the leadership of a school to address particular aspects of the situation. In others, you may find that a small handful of your mentees need referral to other services outside of your program to help address the trauma and negative feelings triggered by their bullying experiences. The point is, you can’t respond effectively if you are lacking in information about what exactly your mentees are dealing with.

3. Train your mentors to address bullying.

Even if you don’t find that bullying experiences are pervasive among your mentees, this is a common enough circumstance that you can assume that at least some of the youth you serve are struggling with this issue and that some of your mentors will find themselves in situations where they can address both the perpetration of bullying and the negative impact in its wake. The previously mentioned User Guide notes that mentors and program staff are well-positioned to do several things to prevent bullying:

  • Establishing rules around bullying behaviors and reinforce that these behaviors are unacceptable.
  • Supervise areas where youth congregate and look for bullying behaviors.
  • Stepping in and stopping bullying behavior when it is recognized.
  • Following up with those involved

Beyond these simple tips, we know that mentors can deliver emotional support to victims, discuss strategies for avoiding or reducing bullying in the future, and teach aggressive youth emotional regulation, relational, and problem-solving skills that can reduce negative behaviors toward their peers. Because bullying prevention has a fair amount of research behind it, there are many available curricula and established anti-bullying programs that mentoring practitioners can consult or refer to in order to find high-quality, evidence-based training content that they can weave into their regular pre- or post-match mentor trainings. StopBullying.gov has lists of tips and strategies that can be incorporated into training.

And don’t forget about the subtopic of cyberbullying, in which bullying behavior is conducted online and is often focused on the humiliation and shaming of victims. This form of bullying is obviously increasing as social media and other technology becomes more integrated into the day-to-day life of young people. The StopBullying.gov site has a fairly extensive section devoted to cyberbullying and how it differs from in-person forms of peer aggression.

4. Don’t forget about the power of peers to address bullying.

One of the other tips in that User Guide, and one that was the basis of one of the programs in this review, is the use of older peers and groups of peers in addressing bullying situations. The Cabrini Green Youth Program used older peers to lead groups of youth in talking about and preventing bullying and aggression. This approach is echoed in the User Guide for mentors, which notes: “When children of different ages attend out-of-school programs, there is an opportunity for teenagers and more mature youth to mentor or befriend those who may be particularly vulnerable to bullying... Doing so can increase their self-assurance and self-esteem. They may also benefit from having a chance to make friends with peers other than their classmates, and it can sometimes be a relief for them to interact with peers who don’t go to their school and who don’t view them as a victim of bullying.”

If your program serves a wider age range of youth, think about how those older mentees can play a role in making bullied youth feel safe and understood and how you might be able to task them with setting expectations around behavioral norms or change the climate of a school or community setting to be less tolerant of bullying behavior overall.

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.

Request no-cost help for your program

Advanced Search