SAM (Solution, Action, Mentorship) Program for Adolescent Girls

*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 website.

Note: The Crime Solutions review of this program was not conducted by the National Mentoring Resource Center’s Research Board, but we have included these insights as the program does fall within the definitional scope of mentoring for inclusion here.

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 of effectiveness).

1. Multi-component programming might be a good approach for applying mentoring to issues of substance abuse.

One of the core findings from the landmark Big Brothers Big Sisters evaluation in the mid-1990s was that mentored youth were less likely to begin using drugs over the period of the study. This has led both policymakers and practitioners to conclude that mentoring programs are inherently effective at helping young people avoid using, or stop using, alcohol, drugs, and other harmful substances. But the larger body of research over time has painted a much more complicated picture, with some mentoring interventions having some success of preventing or halting substance use, while others have failed to do so. In keeping with this pattern, substance use was one of the few outcome categories in DuBois and colleagues’ 2011 meta-analysis of mentoring program evaluation studies that did not show an overall positive impact.

Perhaps one of the reasons that mentoring programs have not been more effective in addressing this particular issue is that the research on drug prevention programs more broadly indicates that they work best when they incorporate several strategies simultaneously to address the many and complex reasons why a young person might turn to drugs or alcohol. The authors of this study noted that the SAM program was designed to offer youth as many “research-proven techniques” as possible: reducing risk factors and enhancing protective factors, targeting multiple drugs, addressing developmental and cultural factors, interactive teaching, peer mentoring, and community involvement. These last two speak to the involvement of both peer and community adult mentors in the program. But the core prevention work of the program was in monthly group lessons built on solution-focused therapy and action learning. Mentoring was essentially an addition to a suite of other support activities (mentors attended the group sessions, but directly led only 4 of the 16 sessions).

Mentoring programs that want to emphasize substance use outcomes may want to take a cue from this program’s design. Rather than asking mentors to help youth tackle these issues on their own, programs might want to incorporate an evidence-based substance abuse prevention program, particularly group approaches that foster peer reinforcement and are led by staff or other adults. The authors note that “best results may be obtained with programs consisting of multiple components,” with a special emphasis placed on the social components of peer and adult mentoring that supplement a psychological intervention (such as solution-focused brief therapy, in this instance).

So rather than asking mentors to be a one-person drug prevention program, mentoring programs seemingly stand to make more progress on this outcome by incorporating other prevention strategies and interventions that can address reasons for substance use in a more direct way. This frees up mentors to focus on relational supports that reinforce that core substance use prevention work. Practitioners looking for an evidence-based intervention they could scaffold mentoring around might want to consult a clearinghouse for such programs, such as the always-helpful National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP),, or one of the other databases of interventions listed here.

2. Highlight your program’s emphasis on specific and appropriate measurement tools.

One of the top challenges mentoring programs face involves how to evaluate the delivery and impact of their programs (MENTOR’s 2016 national survey of mentoring programs found that over a quarter of programs indicated low evaluation capacity was a main concern). Even programs that know what outcomes are most worthy of being tracked have difficulty finding and selecting appropriate measurement tools for those outcomes. This reality was one of the main motivators for building the Measurement Guidance Toolkit for the National Mentoring Resource Center, which aims to solve this very problem.

The article describing the evaluation of the SAM program does an excellent job of detailing the measures that were relevant to SAM (attitudes about drugs, actual use, knowledge about drugs, self-esteem, etc.) as well as the characteristics of the specific instruments they selected. The authors even included things like validity scores and prior uses of the instruments in other studies. These measurement instruments may be useful to other programs that want to focus on substance use outcomes and it’s great to see the authors share so much information about each. While they didn’t include information about why they selected these particular instruments over other options, the rich descriptions of the outcomes they felt spoke to program activities and the details about the quality of each of the instruments will be helpful to others working in this space.

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. 

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