Mentoring Programs for Youth: A Promising Intervention for Delinquency Prevention

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National Institute of Justice on 5/26/2021 by David L. DuBois

Mentoring programs are a prominent strategy in the United States for preventing negative outcomes and promoting resilience among at-risk youth.[1] Although diverse in their design and implementation, mentoring programs share a common aim of providing young people with structured support from older or more experienced people, such as adult volunteers or students at higher grade levels.

These programs date back to initiatives in the early 20th century that sought to engage men from local communities to be positive role models for boys from disadvantaged life circumstances and, in doing so, stem the tide of young males becoming involved in the justice system.[2] Today’s mentoring programs serve a wide range of age groups — from young children to older adolescents — and populations with diverse needs and risk factors — from poverty and neighborhood disadvantage to specific vulnerabilities such as disability, mental health challenges, or experiences of commercial sexual exploitation. Current program models and approaches differ according to the age of the mentor (e.g., older peers vs. adults), whether mentors are volunteers or paid staff, format (e.g., one-to-one vs. group), and location (e.g., school vs. community). Some programs focus on delinquency prevention while others promote mental health and academic achievement.