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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Vulnerable Youth: Federal Mentoring Programs and Issues

Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara
Specialist in Social Policy

Youth mentoring refers to a relationship between youth—particularly those most at risk of experiencing negative outcomes in adolescence and adulthood—and the adults who support and guide them. The origin of the modern youth mentoring concept is credited to the efforts of charity groups that formed during the Progressive era of the early 1900s to provide practical assistance to poor and juvenile justice-involved youth, including help with finding employment.

Approximately 2.5 million youth today are involved in formal mentoring relationships through Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of America and similar organizations. Contemporary mentoring programs seek to improve outcomes and reduce risks among vulnerable youth by providing positive role models who regularly meet with the youth in community or school settings. Some programs have broad youth development goals while others focus more narrowly on a particular outcome. Evaluations of the BBBS program and studies of other mentoring programs demonstrate an association between mentoring and some positive outcomes, but the effects of mentoring on particular outcomes and the ability for mentored youth to sustain gains over time is less certain.

The federal government provides funding for mentoring primarily through a grant program to the Department of Justice (DOJ), with annual appropriations for the program of about $80 million to $100 million in recent years. This funding is used for research and direct mentoring services to select populations of youth, such as those involved or at risk of being involved in the juvenile justice system. Separately, other DOJ funds are used to provide mentoring to Indian youth and youth who are reentering the community after being in a correctional facility. Other federal agencies provide or are authorized to support mentoring as one aspect of a larger program. For example, select programs carried out by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) can provide mentoring, among other services. Youth ChalleNGe, an educational and leadership program for at-risk youth administered by the Department of Defense (DOD), includes mentoring as an aspect of its program. Federal agencies also coordinate on federal mentoring issues. The Federal Mentoring Council serves as a clearinghouse on mentoring issues for the federal government.

In recent years, two mentoring programs—the Mentoring Children of Prisoners (MCP) program and Safe and Drug Free Schools (SDFS) Mentoring program—provided a significant source of federal funding for mentoring services. However, the programs were short-lived: funding for the MCP program was discontinued beginning in FY2011 and funding for the SDFS program was discontinued beginning in FY2010. The Mentoring Children of Prisoners program was created in response to the growing number of children under age 18 with at least one parent who is incarcerated in a federal or state correctional facility. The program was intended, in part, to reduce the chance that mentored youth would use drugs and skip school. Similarly, the SDFS Mentoring program provided school-based mentoring to reduce school dropout and improve relationships for youth at risk of educational failure and with other risk factors. As part of its FY2010 budget justifications, the Obama Administration had proposed eliminating the program because of an evaluation showing that it did not have an impact on students overall in terms of interpersonal relationships, academic outcomes, and delinquent behaviors.

Issues relevant to the federal role in mentoring include the limitations of research on outcomes for mentored youth, the potential need for additional mentors, grantees’ challenges in sustaining funding, and the possible discontinuation of federal mentoring funding.

Date of Report: January 1
2, 2012
Number of Pages:
Order Number: R
Price: $29.95

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