Mentoring Programs for Youth in Reentry
Mentoring by caring, well-trained adults can change the trajectory of youth in reentry by
- providing positive role models;
- modeling decision-making and problem-solving skills;
- facilitating access to community services; and
- offering hope for the future.
Well-trained mentors and comprehensive mentoring programs can help youth in reentry overcome many of the challenges they cope with on a daily basis.
In contrast to more traditional youth mentoring programs, mentoring programs for system-involved youth have unique characteristics:
- Mentors are specifically recruited to work with youth who have been incarcerated, some of whom may be involved with gangs
- Under certain conditions, mentors may have a personal criminal history, but have since become positive role models
- An orientation for mentors includes an overview of the juvenile justice system
- A high-level of organizational support provided to mentors
- Mentoring relationships begin while youth are incarcerated
- A mentorship that is friendly, yet focuses on enhancing the youth's life skills, and fostering links to community services and resources
Components of Effective Reentry Mentoring Programs
Mentoring programs can be transformative in the lives of youth in reentry if they
- incorporate evidence-based strategies;
- are well-implemented; and
- integrate needed services, such as mental health and substance abuse counseling.
Alternatively, mentoring programs that do not meet this criteria may actually cause harm. Mentoring programs for youth in reentry should focus on
- positive youth development;
- youth-driven activities; and
- the development of core competencies and skills.
Programs should include structured activities that meet youth's needs and address developmental stages. For example, younger children may benefit most from educational support and an opportunity to develop healthy relationships with a mentor. Middle adolescents need opportunities to positively interact with peers in a structured group setting. Older youth need support related to life skills, such as job training and placement, finances, and securing housing.
Regardless of the selected approach, the program must be continually evaluated to determine if the needs of the youth are being met. Evaluation should include both identifying aspects of program implementation that need improvement (process evaluation) and tracking program effectiveness (outcome evaluation).