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November | December 2014

National Organizations and Federal Officials Discuss Strategies for Strengthening Infrastructure To Support Mentoring

On November 10, 2014, OJJDP convened the roundtable "Enhancing the Infrastructure to Support, Sustain, and Expand Mentoring Programs," in Washington, DC. More than 55 attendees representing community-based social service programs from around the country and a dozen social scientists and representatives from the federal government, including officials from the White House and federal interagency youth initiatives, participated in the daylong session. Youth representatives were also in attendance.

The discussion centered on strengthening, expanding, and implementing youth mentoring activities and training and technical assistance that advance evidence-based practices.

Commending the attendees on their work in support of the nation’s youth, Karol V. Mason, Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Justice Programs, asked, "How should we use our resources to benefit the wonderful work you do? We should have high expectations for all of our youth—not just that they are not in trouble, [but so] that they excel," she added.

"We intentionally organized this diverse representation because we want to draw out the widest and most representative spectrum of ideas and perspectives," said OJJDP Administrator Robert L. Listenbee in his remarks.

Many of the roundtable attendees shared that they have benefited from mentors, sometimes several mentors at the same time, even as they mentored others.

"We all know that the influence of an older, caring mentor with adequate training and supervision—who is consistently involved in a child’s life over a significant amount of time—can make all the difference in the world. It can change lives for the better and forever set children on a new and more positive path," Administrator Listenbee said.

"Studies show conclusively that mentoring improves behavior and outcomes," David DuBois, Ph.D., Research Chair of OJJDP’s National Mentoring Resource Center, concurred. To be launched in January 2015, the online resource center will provide leadership in defining best practices; offer comprehensive information, tools, and training opportunities to help mentoring groups and their mentors; and unite a coalition of practitioners. The center will be managed by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership.

"We need to intervene with at-risk youth early on, at the front end. I want to cast the widest net to be more responsive," continued Assistant Attorney General Mason. "Money is limited but we have opportunities ... to leverage our resources for this very important endeavor."

The attendees stressed the need for more quality, trained, dedicated mentors. They agreed that using research on evidence-based practices is key to success and discussed the need to match reentering youth with mentors so youth feel connected and can thrive. Rev. Dr. Emilio Marrero, vice president of National Programs at Esperanza, cautioned against a one-size-fits-all approach to mentoring. He said, "We are not just one group, we have our own groups within our groups. [Others] need to adapt for our area, our culture, and to be more collaborative. We don’t need people to do for us, but to equip people within our community. We don’t need delivery of goods and people—we need partners."

Tammy Tai, chief program officer at MENTOR, volunteered that one of the benefits of the OJJDP–MENTOR National Mentoring Resource Center is its training and technical assistance portal, through which applications are currently being accepted for no-cost, specialized, local technical assistance. Examples of technical assistance that might be requested include development of new or revision of existing training materials, guidance and consultation on mentor recruitment plans, analysis of mentor screening processes, analysis of match support processes, and consultation on strategies for improvement.

Other ideas participants suggested that OJJDP and the mentoring community as a whole undertake to help strengthen and grow mentoring opportunities for youth discussed at the roundtable, include:

  • Fortifying networking opportunities with useful information and opportunities, such as for funding and assistance.
  • Working with multiple federal agencies to help link youth to mentors and help mentors help youth fulfill their basic needs, such as for housing, food, education, and employment.
  • Finding more partners, including in the corporate sector.
  • Involving more volunteer organizations, such as AmeriCorps.
  • Recruiting retired individuals.
  • Attracting young people through groups that highlight their interests, like sports.
  • Removing grant application eligibility criteria that limit competition, innovation, collaboration, and reach.
  • Presenting solutions to cumbersome but necessary tasks. For example, hiring companies who do background checks can be a lengthy and expensive process which often delays the start day of good mentors.
  • Teaching and/or helping mentoring groups, particularly those with limited resources, to learn the ideal ways to conduct marketing to gain community involvement and support.
  • Assisting with tailored approaches that account for unique mores within cultural groups.

"There’s no word for ‘mentor’ in Indian country. We use ‘strong circle of relatives.’ We just buried two young people in Minnesota, both suicide victims, one an 11-year-old boy, one a 12-year-old boy," said Valerie Larsen, project director of OJJDP’s Tribal Youth Training and Technical Assistance Center. "That would not have happened if we had a network of mentors."

In moving forward and thinking through the sphere of great ideas and programs, Administrator Listenbee said that OJJDP is committed to emphasizing the importance of using trauma-informed care, a developmentally based approach, and evidence-based practices in working with youth, to understand their uniqueness, help those in need to heal, and help all young people blossom.

Resources:

Register to attend the National Mentoring Summit, which takes place January 28–30, 2015, in Washington, DC.

Access OJJDP’s mentoring resources online.