Promising results for mentoring programs

Mentoring programs can reduce crime and associated problems, but more rigorous research is needed, according to a new systematic review published by the Campbell Collaboration.

Mentoring is one of the most commonly-used interventions to prevent, divert, and deal with youth involved in or at risk for delinquent and antisocial behavior. Although definitions vary, many programs (including those evaluated here) share the following characteristics:

  • extended interaction between two individuals;
  • inequality of experience between mentor and mentee;
  • a mentee who is in a position to imitate and benefit from the mentor’s experience;
  • and an absence of role inequality (such as professional training of the mentor).

These programs aim to address delinquency and its associated problems; for example, school failure, aggression, and drug use.

Review findings

This review examined 39 rigorous studies published between 1970 and 2005.

Overall, the studies indicated a moderate positive effect of mentoring programs, particularly in combating delinquency and aggression. Further analyses suggested that mentoring may be particularly valuable for those at risk or already involved in delinquency or related issues. Positive effects were also stronger for those programs in which emotional support was a key part of the mentoring process, and where professional development was a motivator for the mentor’s participation.

As a caveat to these findings, the review authors note that even these rigorous studies lacked specific information about what constitutes mentoring activity. They encourage more careful design and testing of mentoring programs in the future to improve the development and effective practice of this popular crime prevention approach.

This article is based on the systematic review (access full text version):
Tolan, P, Henry, D, Schoeny, M, and Bass, A: Mentoring Interventions to Affect Juvenile Delinquency and Associated Problems.

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