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May 2019Vol. 20, No. 4Mentoring Program for Youth in Foster Care Appears to Reduce Criminal Offenses in Early Adulthood

A research brief funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) within the U.S. Department of Justice finds that a mentoring program for older youth in foster care resulted in 22.7 percent fewer criminal offenses in male participants in early adulthood compared with those who were not mentored. The study, which tracked criminal justice involvement 2 years after the mentoring intervention concluded, finds that the male youth who were not mentored were 7 percent more likely than their mentored counterparts to be incarcerated.

The study looked specifically at the use of the My Life model, a 12-month mentoring program with weekly structured individual and group mentoring activities for youth aged 16-18 in foster care. The My Life mentors helped participating youth identify and achieve goals important to them as well as develop problem-solving skills that could help them overcome potential obstacles to achieving those goals. Participating youth received an average of 100 direct mentoring and indirect service hours from My Life mentors over the course of a year. More information on My Life is available on the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare website at

The study reviewed data from two randomized controlled trials of the My Life program for youth in foster care and subsequent criminal justice outcomes 2 years after the intervention. Markers for criminal justice involvement included self-reported arrests or convictions and the number of days incarcerated or on probation. The study included a moderation analysis to assess the program's effectiveness based on gender, identified disability, and prior delinquency. While the study authors acknowledge that the My Life program fell short of being statistically significant for the overall sample group, it did result in statistically significant reductions in the level of criminal offenses and incarceration among male participants.

Importantly, the study shows a preventive effect for male youth who participated in the intervention and had no prior history of delinquency. None of these young men were incarcerated at the 2-year follow-up, whereas 8.5 percent of the male youth who did not participate and also had no prior histories reported having been incarcerated at the 2-year follow-up. Additionally, a cost-benefit analysis showed that it was three times more expensive to incarcerate those youth who were not mentored (and who reported incarceration in early adulthood) than it would have been to provide them with the My Life mentoring 2 years earlier when they were in high school. The authors point out that the clearest cost-benefit is from the number of days avoided in jail.

The authors conclude that structured, weekly mentoring of older youth in foster care along the lines of the My Life program shows promise for cost-effectively reducing and preventing criminal involvement in early adulthood.

The research brief, Extending a Randomized Trial of the My Life Mentoring Model for Youth in Foster Care to Evaluate Long-Term Effects on Offending in Young Adulthood, is available at (1,400 KB).