The Evidence Portal

Mentoring Program for At-Risk Youth

About the program

The goal of this intensive mentoring program is to prevent the onset of a delinquent lifestyle or mental illness. 

Youth are paired with a local university student for 6 months or a volunteer from the community for 1 year. 

The program consists of:

  • Individual weekly catch ups between mentor and mentee
  • Group activities with other mentors and mentees
  • Monthly seminars with life skills training

Who does it work for?

The intensive mentoring program is designed for youth aged 10-17 identified as at-risk of mental illness and delinquent behaviours. Youth could be referred to the program for: fighting, behavioural problems at school or in the community, emotional problems, poor grades or school attendence, theft, vandalism or other minor crimes. Youth involed in more serious delinquent behaviourare not eligible for this program. 

The program has only been evaluated in the USA (Keating et al. 2002). 

One quasi-experimental study was conducted with 68 youth (34 in the intervention group and 34 in the control group). The sample consists of one third Caucasian, one third African American and one third Latino youth. The average age of the sample is not provided by researchers. 

The program has not been evaluated in Australia or with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities. It has also not been evaluated with culturally and linguistically diverse populations in Australia.

What outcomes does it contribute to?

Participants engaged in the intensive mentoring program as compared with the control group experienced the following outcomes:

Positive outcomes:

  • Reduced internalising behaviours (e.g. anxiety, withdrawal) at school and home
  • Reduced externalising behaviours (e.g. aggression, disruptiveness) at school and home

No effect:

  • Levels of hopelessness
  • Levels of self-esteem
  • Delinquency

Negative outcomes:

  • No negative effects were found

How effective is it?

Overall, the program had a mixed effect on client outcomes.

How strong is the evidence?

Mixed research evidence (with no adverse effects)

  • At least one high-quality randomised controlled trial (RCT)/quasi-experimental design (QED) study reports statistically significant positive effects for at least one outcome, AND
  • An equal number or more RCT/QED studies of similar size and quality show no observed effects than show statistically significant positive effects, AND
  • No RCT/QED studies show statistically significant adverse effects.

How is it implemented?

Once youth are referred to the program they are placed on a waiting list. Youth on the waiting list attend one monthly group activity with other youth on the list until they are matched with a mentor. 

Youth and mentors are matched according to gender, ethnicity, age, geographical location and common interestes, as well as preferences in theses categories. 

Mentors are either local university students or adult volunteers from the community. Matches with university students last a minimum of 6 months. Matches with community volunteers last a minimum of 1 year.

Mentors and mentees spend a minimum of 3 hours together each week. The majority of this time is spend doing activities like, attending a sporting event, or going to the movies or a park. 

In addition to the 3 hours of individual interaction, mentors and mentees also participate in group activities organised by the program. This includes things like recreational activities, community service projects, cultural events and educational experiences. 

Life skills training is also provided to the mentees. A monthly seminar conducted by local professions educates youth on topics such as:

  • Child abuse prevention
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Cross-cultural awareness
  • Health
  • Nutrition
  • School problems

How much does it cost?

No specific costs are provided for the intensive mentoring program itself, however Keating et al. (2002) cite the average estimated cost of a well-run mentoring program per child per year is around US $1000. Accounting for inflation, this equates to around $1871 AUD*.

*All conversions made using XE Converter online in March 2021

What else should I consider?

Adults who participated in the program live in the community and are interested in spending one-on-one time with a young person who is experiencing difficulties. These adults must be over the age of 18 and are screened extensively for both their commitment to the program and their appropriated for involvement with an at-risk young person. They attend training sessions designed to educate them about child development, the warning signs of child abuse, problems the youngperson is likely to be experiencing and how to interact effectively with the young person. Volunteers are also required to attend seminars and to check in with program counsellors each to report on their mentoring activities.  

Where does the evidence come from?

1 QED study conducted in the USA comprising a sample of 68 youth, 34 youth receiving interventions and 34 youth in the control group (Keating et al. 2002).

Further resources

Keating, LM, Tomishima, MA, Foster, S & Alessandri, M 2002, ‘The effects of a mentoring program on at-risk youth’, Adolescence, vol. 37, no. 148, pp. 717-734, viewed 19 February, 2021 

Last updated:

16 Feb 2022

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