Mentoring Programs Significantly Improve Outcomes for Youth

(WASHINGTON D.C., Feb. 28, 2002) – Mentoring programs can significantly improve outcomes for kids, but only if relationships between mentor and mentee are long-term and intensive and if programs are well-structured, according to a new research brief from Child Trends.

These findings are presented in Mentoring: A Promising Strategy for Youth Development. This new research brief from Child Trends reviews studies of 10 youth mentoring programs, including nationwide and locally based programs. The authors of the brief found solid evidence that mentoring programs can prevent substance abuse and improve educational achievement and social development. They also found that youth who are most disadvantaged or at-risk appear to benefit most from mentoring.

“Our review highlights the positive effect that caring adults can have in a young person’s life,” said Child Trends president and co-author of the brief, Kristin A. Moore, Ph.D. “It’s important to note, however, that these mentor/mentee relationships need to be consistent and committed. Mentoring relationships can actually do more harm than good if they are short-lived or sporadic.”

The authors of the brief found that youth participating in mentoring programs consistently showed better outcomes than control groups across all of the programs studied. Among the findings:

  • Youth participating in mentoring programs had fewer unexcused absences from school than did similar youth not participating in these programs.
  • Youth in mentoring programs were less likely to initiate drug use.
  • Youth who were mentored had significantly more positive attitudes toward school and the future.

The research demonstrates that the longer the mentoring relationship, the better the outcomes for the youth. Youth in relationships of short duration (three to six months) experienced no significant improvements in academic, social and substance use outcomes. However, youth in mentoring relationships that lasted more than 12 months felt more confident about doing their schoolwork, skipped fewer school days, had higher grades and were less likely to use drugs, according to the brief.

The research brief draws on evaluations of mentoring programs by Public/Private Ventures, Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation and Mathematica Policy Research and others.

The mentoring programs studied include six locally based programs (Across Ages in Philadelphia; The Buddy System in Hawaii; Building Essential Life Options Through New Goals at Texas A&M University; Linking Lifetimes in Philadelphia; Raising Ambition Instills Self-Esteem (RAISE) in Baltimore, and Sponsor a Scholar in Philadelphia), and four national programs (Big Brother/Big Sister, Campus Partners in Learning, Career and The Hospital Youth Mentoring Program).

Child Trends authors examined evaluations of each of these programs to determine successful characteristics of mentoring relationships and found:

  • Youth are more likely to benefit if mentors maintain frequent contact with them and know their families. One study found that youth whose mentors knew their families well had higher GPAs and were almost one and one-half times more likely to enroll in college than youth who didn’t have such a relationship with their mentors. 
  • Youth who reported having high-quality relationships with their mentors experience the best results. 
  • Young people who are the most disadvantaged or at-risk seem to benefit the most from mentoring.

“Mentoring programs appear to be worth the investment,” Moore said. “Over all across a broad band of studies, we see small but significant improvement in outcomes for youth.”

The authors of the brief are Susan M. Jekielek, Kristin A. Moore, Elizabeth C. Hair, and Harriet J. Scarupa.

To view Mentoring: A Promising Strategy for Youth Development, click on

Child Trends, founded in 1979, is an independent, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and families by conducting research and providing science-based information to the public and decision-makers.