This review examines research as it relates to mentoring as a prevention strategy for delinquent behavior. The appeal of mentoring as a delinquent behavior prevention strategy is understandable given its relatively low cost and ability to capitalize on the resources of local communities and caring individuals. The review is organized around four topics:
- The overall contributions of mentoring to reducing or preventing delinquent behavior.
- Factors that may condition or shape the extent to which mentoring has effects on delinquent behavior.
- Processes that may be involved in accounting for the effects of mentoring on delinquent behavior.
- The extent to which approaches to mentoring focused on preventing or reducing delinquent behavior have reached intended youth, been implemented with high quality, and been adopted and sustained by settings.
Research on the effectiveness of mentoring for preventing or reducing delinquent behavior found mentoring relationships, both those that are provided through programs and those that are naturally occurring, appear more likely than not to contribute, on net, to lower levels of delinquent behavior. Research suggests, but does not definitively identify, several factors that may influence the effectiveness of mentoring for preventing or reducing delinquent behavior. One possibility is that prior involvement in the courts may lead youth to resist rather than to receive mentors whom they may view as an extension of an unpleasant justice system. However, both “mattering” (defined as being noticed, needed, and an object of concern, as well as the perception of being acknowledged and relevant to others), and strengthening of core indicators of positive development, and “thriving” (e.g., skills for setting and pursuing goals) appear to be processes through which mentoring may be able to help prevent or reduce delinquent behavior. When assessing the reach, quality, and sustainability of mentoring initiatives to prevent or reduce delinquent behavior, there remains work to be done. Mentoring services directed toward preventing or reducing future delinquent behavior and engaging youth in these services have proved only partially successful and, as such, there is a substantial unmet need for mentoring directed toward these goals. Limitations pertaining to the organizational capacity of juvenile justice settings and mentoring programs and their degree of coordination with one another appear to be important barriers.
Insights for practice based on currently available knowledge are appended to this review.
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