This Resource Sheet examines evidence for the effectiveness of mentoring programs in helping to set Indigenous young people at risk of engaging in antisocial and risky behaviours on healthier life pathways.
Mentoring is a relationship intervention strategy that research is showing can have powerful and lasting positive impacts on behavioural, academic and vocational outcomes for at-risk youth. Costello and Thomson describe youth mentoring as follows:
Youth mentoring is, according to the Australian Youth Mentoring Network, defined as ‘a structured and trusting relationship that brings young people together with caring individuals who offer guidance, support and encouragement’. The goal of youth mentoring is to enhance social engagement and thereby minimise negative behaviours through growth in social and developmental behaviours.
There are two types of mentoring style found in the literature—natural and planned. Among Indigenous Australians, the natural or informal form of mentoring is often spontaneous through the Elders’ traditional role of sharing the wisdom, the knowledge and the spirit, which can draw Aboriginal people back to traditional ways. Elders play an extremely important role in Aboriginal families as role models, care providers and educators.
This Resource Sheet focuses on the planned or formal form of mentoring, which often includes Elders as part of these programs. It does not, however, cover the following formal forms of mentoring:
- a detailed analysis of mentoring, which occurs within sporting and other programs. (This is covered, where relevant, in a forthcoming Resource Sheet titled Supporting healthy communities through sports and recreation programs.)
- mentoring embedded within broader youth diversionary or justice programs
- mentoring within cadetship or other vocational education programs.
There is a strong body of literature on the types of youth mentoring programs and the dynamics of successful programs and mentoring relationships. This Resource Sheet draws on evidence from 45 studies. Over half were Australian studies, with additional evidence from research in other colonised nations such as New Zealand, Canada and the United States. Two-thirds of the studies were Indigenous-specific. A range of methodologies was used including evaluations, critical descriptions of programs, meta-analyses and research syntheses.