Despite their widespread popularity, our new research suggests that mentoring programmes are no magic bullet for vulnerable young people.
There are hundreds of mentoring programmes across all regions of England. Our new report, “Forging Futures Through Mentoring: A risk worth pursuing?” finds that many focus on vulnerable young people. This includes young people growing up in care or poverty. We found a particularly high number of these programmes in London, and fewer in the East Midlands and North East of England.
Our report, produced for the Children’s Commissioner, warns that when mentoring relationships break down this can leave vulnerable children at risk of harmful consequences. This means that mentoring programmes must pay careful attention to five golden rules:
With so many programmes already in existence, there is a danger that new initiatives attempt to reinvent the wheel. This can lead to a failure to learn from existing practice and mean that a lot of evidence is lost.
We are therefore recommend that:
- Programmes ensure they are well-versed in current evidence. What Works centres, Government and organisations in the sector should consider developing an online resource for mentoring programmes and practitioners, where mentoring research can be collected and summarised.
- Programmes should be evaluated as rigorously as possible. Depending on size and budget, programmes should consider being part of RCTs for larger, national-scale projects. Smaller programmes might also seek to partner with research organisations to understand their impact better, and add to the research base for mentoring.
- Where possible, programmes should adhere to the central concepts of relationship duration and support for mentors.
We also recommend that:
- All children in care are entitled to mentoring through Independent Visitors (IVs). Our research suggests that local authorities are sometimes unclear how many children in care access IVs, and if they do how many merely receive advocacy, and not mentoring.
The Government should urgently carry out an assessment of how IVs are used and funded and how many children in care are accessing the support which they are legally entitled to. This review should also assess how effective IVs are in supporting children in care.
- Schools often use teachers to provide low-cost mentoring for vulnerable children. This often only lasts a couple of terms. Such approaches are unlikely to be effective and schools should be cautious about these initiatives.
Given the large number of organisations already offering community-based, volunteer mentoring, schools might instead use external providers. If they pick high quality providers, the mentoring they offer to vulnerable young people can then occur at a time and place that suits the young person and can extend beyond the school year.