Home and Community Care Digest
Methods: Demographic characteristics and baseline functioning were obtained from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (1994-2002). Mentorship was defined as the presence of a positive non-parental adult figure while the youth was between the ages of 14 and 18 years old, with the relationship lasting for at least two years. Outcomes measured in young adulthood were assessed using four domains, namely, education/employment, psychological well-being, physical health, and participation in unhealthy behaviors. Associations between the presence of a mentor and each outcome were investigated.
Findings: Youth in foster care experienced significantly worse adult outcomes compared with youth in the general population. Similar demographic characteristics were observed between youth in foster care who were considered mentored (n=160) and those who were considered non-mentored (n=150). Mentored youth reported having been in their relationships for an average of 9.7 years. Thirty-six percent of mentors were non-parental family members (i.e., grandparents, aunt/uncles), 31% were from informal capacities (i.e. coaches, friends' parents, co-workers, and friends), 21% were from professional roles (i.e., teachers, guidance counselors, ministers) and 11% were from "other" capacities.
Compared to non-mentored youth, mentored youth were more likely to report a high level of perceived general health and participation in higher education; and less likely to report suicidal thoughts and to participate in unhealthy behaviors (specifically, receiving a diagnosis of a sexually transmitted infection and experiencing acts of physical aggression).
Conclusions: Mentoring relationships of vulnerable youth during adolescence are associated with positive outcomes in young adulthood. However, it should be noted that this study was observational and thus, cannot show causal relationships. Moreover, some of the mentoring relationships may have actually been initiated through a formal program as opposed to naturally emerging from the youths' existing social network. Regardless, mental health professionals and child-youth workers should develop strategies to educate, encourage, and support 'natural' mentoring relationships for this vulnerable population. Positive outcomes in young adulthood will likely translate to a lower burden on our health care system and social services.
Reference: Ahrens, K.R., DuBois, K.L., Richardson, L.P., Fan, M-Y., Lozano, P. Youth in Foster Care with Adult Mentors During Adolescence Have Improved Adult Outcomes. Pediatrics. 2008; 121(2): e246-e252.
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