Support for Mentor Advocacy

  • Evidence Rating for this Practice:


    In each of the two studies reviewed, the practice of support for mentor advocacy was associated with better outcomes. Additionally, the methodology used for assessing effects of the practice met criteria for rigor in both studies. Based on these considerations, the practice received a designation of Promising.

    Description of Practice:

    Support for mentor advocacy is a practice that focuses on enhancing the actions that mentors may take on behalf of their mentees outside of the mentor-mentee relationship itself (i.e., the time they spend together). Examples of mentor advocacy include (but are not necessarily limited to) efforts on the part of mentors to:

    • facilitate or be present to show support for the mentee’s participation in developmentally-enhancing organized activities (e.g., after-school programs);
    • help ensure that the mentee has access to appropriate services (e.g., counseling, health care), resources (e.g., school supplies), or opportunities (e.g., post-secondary education, employment);
    • contribute to decision-making that affects the mentee within different settings and institutions (e.g., school, court system);
    • establish and maintain ties with other significant persons in the mentee’s life (e.g., parents, teachers, peers); and
    • expand the mentee’s social network through introductions to new persons (e.g., mentor’s family or friends).

    Although mentors may be guided or encouraged by programs to undertake such efforts primarily in partnership with the mentee’s parent(s)/caregiver(s), in some instances they also may be supported in taking action more independently as circumstances warrant. The timing, intensity, and duration of the mentor advocacy activities that are targeted for support by programs can vary widely based on considerations such as the characteristics, backgrounds, and assessed needs of mentees, mentor backgrounds, skills, and interests, and program goals. Program support also may be geared toward helping mentors tailor their advocacy activities to the assessed needs and preferences of their mentees. Mentors may be supported by programs in taking on an advocacy role through training that is provided before or during the match relationship as well as through more individualized match support. Program support for mentor advocacy is distinguished from the practice of helping mentors to cultivate self-advocacy skills in their mentees as well as from separate components of programs or organizations that may involve having persons or groups other than mentors (e.g., professional staff) advocate on behalf of mentees or their families. It is also distinct from more indirect efforts of programs to facilitate mentor advocacy, such as through recruitment of prospective mentors whose characteristics or backgrounds are expected to be well-suited to assuming this type of role.


    The primary goal of the practice is to support mentors to take actions on behalf of their mentees in order to enhance mentee development.

    Target Population/Eligibility of Target Sites:

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

    Theory and Evidence-Informed Principles:

    Program support for mentor advocacy is not guided by a particular theoretical perspective. However, the focus of this practice on supporting mentors to intervene on behalf of a young person in order to provide instrumental or tangible assistance is consistent with the theories of social support, social networks and social capital. Along with its potential to positively influence the youth’s adaptation in different settings (e.g., school, peer group), such support may broaden the youth’s network of social ties in ways that lead to new connections and opportunities, thus increasing social capital (Heaney & Israel, 2002; Portes, 2000). Viewed from a broader ecological perspective (Bronfenbrenner, 1994), mentor advocacy also may help to strengthen bridges across multiple settings or domains of activity in a young person’s life (e.g., school and family) or to foster entre into new ones (e.g., work). Furthermore, in line with prominent theories of youth delinquency, such as Differential Opportunity Theory, advocacy efforts by a mentor on behalf of a young person may connect a young person to ‘legitimate’ opportunities for achieving goals, thus making delinquent behavior such as violence and substance use less attractive (Hagan, 2012).

    Corresponding Elements of Effective Practice:

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

    Key Personnel:

    The successful implementation of this practice is likely to require staff to have experience with engaging in advocacy on behalf of youth and with training or supporting others to do so effectively.

    Additional Information:


  • Study 1

    Evaluation Methodology:

    DuBois et al (2011) examined the practice of support for mentor advocacy in a meta-analysis of 73 evaluations of youth mentoring programs published between 1999 and 2010. (Meta-analysis is a technique for synthesizing and summarizing findings across evaluations of similar, but not identical research studies. One question often addressed in meta-analyses is whether the effects of a certain kind of program, like youth mentoring, differ based on the specific types of practices that are utilized. A correlation between the use of a practice and program effectiveness does not, generally speaking, provide definitive evidence of a causal effect of that practice; one reason for this is that programs that do or do not utilize a particular practice may differ in other important ways, not all of which can be controlled for statistically.) Programs or interventions were categorized as mentoring programs if their goal was to promote positive youth outcomes using “specific non-parental adults (or older youth) who are acting in a nonprofessional helping capacity”; the review thus considered evaluations of programs with a wide variety of formats and settings. Analyses were based on 82 independent samples because some studies contributed more than one sample. To be included, the evaluations needed to utilize a two-group randomized control or quasi-experimental design. By comparing changes in outcomes for mentored youth to non-mentored youth, such designs help to avoid the potential error of attributing changes in outcomes that occur due to normal development to effects of the mentoring program. Evaluations of programs where mentoring was provided in combination with other interventions were not included in the meta-analysis, unless the effect of the mentoring component could be isolated.

    Mentoring program effect sizes were estimated for youth outcomes that could fall within any of the six domains: academic/school, attitudinal/motivation, social/relational, psychological/emotions, conduct problems, and physical health. All effect sizes were based on outcomes assessed at the end of the program. Where pretest data were available (53 of the samples), they were subtracted from posttest outcomes to adjust for potential differences between mentoring and comparison groups at baseline. Analyses were conducted under the assumption of a random effects model. Effect sizes were computed as standardized mean differences (specifically Hedge’s g) and were coded so that positive values for outcomes indicated effects in the desired direction (e.g. less delinquent behavior). The meta-analysis included a comparison of effect sizes for programs that included support for mentors assuming an advocacy role (13 samples) and those for which this practice was not evident (69 samples). Prior to testing for differences in effect size in relation to this and other program characteristics, potential effects of study quality on effect sizes were assessed and effect sizes were residualized on those variables to control for their influence. Differences in effect sizes in relation to program characteristics, such as support for mentor advocacy, that reached (p < .05) or approached (p < .10) significance were reported.

    Evaluation Outcomes:

    Program Effect Size

    DuBois et al (2011) found that mentoring programs that included support for mentors assuming an advocacy role had larger estimated effects on youth outcomes than those that did not include the practice. Programs that had mentor advocacy had an estimated effect size of .26 (95% confidence range of .20 to .32), while those without evidence of the practice had an estimated effect size of .19 (95% confidence range of.16 to .22). This difference approached significance (p < .10). This indicates that estimated effects of programs on youth outcomes, which were favorable overall, were larger among programs that provided support for mentor advocacy.

    Additional Findings

    A stepwise regression analysis was used to determine if support for a mentor advocacy role earned entry into a best-fitting model for predicting effect size in which all program characteristics tested as moderators were considered. p<.10 was set as the criterion for variable entry. In this analysis, support for mentor advocacy also was found to be one of six moderator variables that earned entry into the best-fitting model, indicating that this program practice was associated with stronger program effect size independent of its overlap with the other moderator variables that also earned entry.

    Study 2

    Evaluation Methodology:

    Tolan et al. (2014) examined the practice of support for mentor advocacy in a meta-analysis of 46 evaluations of mentoring interventions targeting youth at risk for delinquency, published between 1970 and 2011. As such, only studies that involved youth who had prior delinquency or contact with the juvenile justice system, or who had environmental (e.g. residence in high crime neighborhood) or individual (e.g. high scores in screening measures, school, failure, etc) characteristics that put them at risk for future delinquency were included in the meta-analysis. Included studies described their intervention or program as mentoring, included mentoring as part of the intervention, or had intervention components that were characteristic of mentoring. Additionally, to be included, studies needed to provide a quantitative measure of at least one of four delinquency related outcomes (delinquency, aggression, substance use, or academic achievement/failure) and use a two-group experimental or quasi-experimental design where the comparison group was not another experimental condition. When non-equivalent comparison groups were used, studies had to demonstrate comparability/equivalence of the treatment and comparison groups by prospectively matched subjects in treatment and comparison groups or retrospectively conducted tests of equivalence at pretest.

    Mentoring program effect sizes were estimated for each outcome category as standardized mean differences (Hedge’s g) and under the assumption of a random effects model. Effect sizes were scaled so that positive effect sizes represented effects in the desired direction (i.e. lower delinquency related outcomes). Moderator analysis was used to compare mean effect sizes across mentoring interventions that had evidence of including support for mentor advocacy on behalf of participants (10 studies) and those with no evidence of such advocacy processes (32 studies). Moderation was tested for with meta-regression analysis, with the practice (presence or absence of mentor advocacy) and study design (experimental or quasi-experimental) included in the model and a one-tailed significance level of p < .05.

    Evaluation Outcomes:

    Program Effect Size
    Tolan et al. (2014) found that mentoring programs that included mentor advocacy as a key process of the program had larger estimated effects on outcomes than those that did not include the practice. Programs that had evidence of support for mentor advocacy had an estimated effect size of .39 (95% confidence range: .06 to .72), whereas those without evidence of the practice had an estimated effect size of .13 (95% confidence range: -.05 to .31).

    Meta-regression analysis yielded a significant (one-tailed, p < .05) regression coefficient of .17, which indicates that after adjusting for research design (whether the study was experimental or quasi-experimental) advocacy was associated with a .17 increase in effect size. This suggests that mentoring programs that provided support for mentor advocacy had a greater impact on youth delinquency outcomes than programs without this support.

  • External Validity Evidence:

    Variations in the Practice
    The studies reviewed, both of which are meta-analyses, provide no information about the practice other than its presence or absence in the mentoring program being evaluated. Therefore, no information is available about the particular activities associated with supporting mentors in adopting an advocacy role.

    One study focused on youth considered at risk for delinquency (by virtue of their prior delinquency or their environmental or individual risk characteristics) and thus provided evidence of practice effects for that population of youth. The other study had broader inclusion criteria for youth participants and thus included studies of samples of youth that varied along dimensions such as age, gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Neither study, however, tested for possible differences in the association of support for mentor advocacy with program effects across subgroups of youth. Therefore, applicability of findings to different subgroups of youth is largely unknown.

    Studies investigating the possible effects of support for mentor advocacy were inclusive of mentors of varying characteristics, including both adult and peer mentors, paid and volunteer mentors, and mentors with varying motivations for participation in programs. However, studies did not test for evidence of possible differences in effects of mentor advocacy across subgroups of mentors along these or other dimensions. Therefore, the applicability of findings to different subgroups of mentors remains unknown.

    Program Settings/Structures
    Studies included in the meta-analyses evaluated mentoring programs with varying structures and that were delivered in a range of different types of settings, including those taking place within the community and those occurring at school, those using a one-on-one format and those employing a group format, and those that provide match support for mentoring pairs and those that do not. Neither meta-analysis, however, tested for evidence of possible differences in effects of support for mentor advocacy on the basis of such program characteristics. Therefore, applicability of findings to different program structures or settings is unknown.

    Both meta-analyses investigated the potential effects of mentor advocacy on a range of youth outcomes, including delinquency, aggression, substance use, academic achievement, social skills, self-esteem, and obesity. Effect-sizes were collapsed across all outcomes when testing for potential effects of mentor advocacy. However, one of the studies did summarize results suggestive of program support for mentor advocacy being associated with similarly stronger effects for each of four types of outcomes (delinquency, aggression, drug use, academic achievement/failure).

  • Resources Available to Support Implementation:

    Resources are currently not available.

  • Evidence Base:

    DuBois, D. L., Portillo, N., Rhodes, J. E., Silverthorn, N., & Valentine, J. C. (2011). How effective are mentoring programs for youth? A systematic assessment of the evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 12, 57-91.

    Tolan, P. H., Henry, D. B., Schoeny, M. S., 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.

    Additional References:

    Bronfenbrenner, U. (1994). Ecological models of human development. In International Encyclopedia of Education, Vol. 3, 2nd edition. Oxford: Elsevier. Reprinted in: Gauvain, M. (Ed.), Readings on the development of children, 2nd. Ed. (pp. 37-42). NY: Freeman. Retrieved from

    Hagan, F. E. (2012). Introduction to criminology: Theories, methods, and criminal behavior (8th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Heaney, C. A. & Israel, B. A. (2008). Social Networks and Social Support. In K. Glanz, B. K. Rimer & K. Viswanath (Eds.), Health behavior and health education: Theory, research, and practice (4th ed., pp. 189-210). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

    Portes, A. (2000) Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology. In E. L. Lesser (Ed.), Knowledge and social capital: Foundations and applications (pp. 43-68). Boston, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann

    Tolan, P., Henry, D., Schoeny, M., Bass, A., Lovegrove, P., & Nichols, E. (2013). Mentoring interventions to affect juvenile delinquency and associated problems: A systematic review. Campbell Collaboration Library of Systematic Reviews, 9(10). Retrieved from

Insights for Practitioners

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

Request no-cost help for your program

Advanced Search