• September 2012
  • Vol. 13, No. 8

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Mentoring Improves Outcomes for Children in Foster Care

Children and youth in foster care who form positive relationships through therapeutic mentoring experience significantly better behavioral and educational outcomes than their peers, according to a new study published in the journal Child Welfare. Children improved the most when they received frequent and consistent mentoring and when relationships lasted 1 year or more. The study suggests that therapeutic mentoring shows promise in protecting children in foster care from additional trauma and helping them recover more quickly from previous traumatic experiences.

Therapeutic mentoring is more intensive than traditional mentoring and generally involves:

  • Screening of mentors' ability to work with traumatized children and compensation for mentors
  • At least 12 hours of mentor training on relationship building and tailoring shared activities to children's needs
  • Monthly mentor supervision by agency staff and careful planning to end the mentoring relationship

In the study, researchers examined the experiences of 262 children and youth in foster care in a Midwestern metropolitan area who were receiving systems of care services due to risk of experiencing a placement disruption. Researchers compared outcomes of children who did and did not receive therapeutic mentoring, and they looked at the impact of the quality and length of the mentor relationship. Children spent 3 to 5 hours with their mentor the same time and day each week for 9 months on average. Among the study's significant findings:

  • Children receiving substantial mentoring improved in family and social functioning and school behavior and achievement, and trauma symptoms decreased after receiving mentoring for 1 year or more.
  • Children receiving limited mentoring showed no improvement and experienced worse outcomes during the first 6 months of mentoring than children who were not mentored.
  • Children who were not mentored showed no differences or experienced worse outcomes in all areas than children who received substantial mentoring.

The authors suggest that limited mentoring relationships may lead to more disappointment and worsen children's outcomes. The study indicates a need to explore how mentoring may improve coping skills and reduce trauma for children and youth in foster care.

"The Role of Therapeutic Mentoring in Enhancing Outcomes for Youth in Foster Care," by Sara Johnson, Julia Pryce, and Zoran Martinovich, Child Welfare, 90(5), 2011, is available by subscription on the Child Welfare League of America website:


Related Item

Public/Private Ventures has published an issue brief entitled Making the Most of Youth Mentoring: A Guide for Funders. While not specific to child welfare, the resource may prove useful to professionals when choosing mentoring program partners.

The brief, written by Carla Herrera, is available here:


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