Very important non-parent adult

Scale: Presence of a Very Important Adult.

What it measures:

  • Whether a youth has an adult in his or her life who fills the role of a mentor, and who this adult(s) is.

Intended age range: 8- to 18-year olds.

Brief description: This scale consists of the following single item: I'd like to ask you about any Very Important Adults you might have in your life right now. A Very Important Adult is someone who spends a lot of time with you, someone you can really count on, who gets you to do your best, and who cares about what happens to you. Please check the boxes that describe any Very Important Adults in your life right now. If you have more than one Very Important Adult, you may check more than one box. If you do not happen to have a Very Important Adult in your life right now, please check the very last box. Examples of the categories of adults asked about are: “My parent or other person who raises me; “Another adult relative (grandparent, aunt or uncle, etc.),”  “Teacher, guidance counselor, or other adult at school,” and, “A mentor through this program.” Youth can also select “I do not have a Very Important Adult in my life right now.”

Rationale: Variations of this measure have been used in several evaluations of youth mentoring programs. As would be expected, program participants have been more likely than non-participants to report the presence of a very important (or “special”) adult in their lives. The version provided here is simplified from that used in prior work.

Cautions: None. Special administration information: Administrators should highlight that youth can check more than one box if they have more than one very important adult.

How to score: Responses on this measure can be used flexibly to assess: (1) the number of different categories of mentor-like adults in the youth’s life (based on the number of categories endorsed); (2) the presence of a non-parental mentor-like adult in the youth’s life (based on whether a category other than “My parent or other person who raises me” is endorsed); and (3) the youth’s view of the program mentor as filling the role of a Very Important Adult (based on whether “A mentor through this program” is endorsed). Response options can be changed as desired. However, retaining at least a few categories in addition to “A mentor through this program” is advised as this helps to ensure that youth do not feel that the “right” answer is to endorse their program mentor.

How to interpret findings: A youth who endorses at least one category of non-parental adults is considered to have an adult in his or her life who fills a mentor-like role.

Access and permissions: The measure is available for non-commercial use with no charge and is provided here.

Alternatives: Other available measures provide more in-depth assessments of a youth’s relationships with important adults. One such measure includes separate scales asking about each of four distinct functional roles that may be addressed in a youth’s relationship with an important non-familial adult: Supporter, Model/Compass, Challenger, and Connector. This measure consists of 14 items.


Citation: Herrera, C., Grossman, J. B., Kauh, T. J., Feldman, A. F., & McMaken, J. (2007). Making a difference in schools: The Big Brothers Big Sisters School-based Mentoring Impact Study. Philadelphia, PA: Public/Private Ventures. (Accessible here.)  

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