The core component of youth mentoring programmes, such as the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) programme, is a ‘match’ between an adult volunteer (mentor) and a young person (mentee). Youth mentoring is an approach that is firmly located in prevention and early intervention. It aims to strengthen the social support available to children who lack the presence of significant adults in their lives and thus, to facilitate the positive development and well-being of children and young people (Brady, Dolan and Canavan, 2017; Dolan and Brady, 2011). Mentoring has been found to support children in coping with stress and other risks occurring in their social environments and to prevent the escalation of problems.
The results of evaluations of mentoring programmes provide clear evidence that involvement in youth mentoring relationships can result in benefits for young people (Dolan et al., 2011; DuBois, Portillo, Rhodes, Silverthorn and Valentine, 2011). But, the research indicates that not every mentoring programme will produce these results; the most successful mentoring programmes are those that foster the development of close, trusting and safe relationships between mentors and mentees. Such programmes have been shown to adhere to evidence-based practices such as rigorous screening of volunteers, creating matches based on shared interests, providing training to mentors and ensuring regular supervision of matches (Stelter, Kupersmidt and Stump, 2018). Ongoing availability of staff support and opportunities for mentors and youth to participate in shared activities are also helpful in facilitating bonds to develop (Garringer, Kupersmidt, Rhodes, Stelter and Tai, 2015). A range of research studies have shown that specific factors associated with the approach or style of volunteer mentors also influences whether mentoring is beneficial for young people (Brumovská, 2017; Morrow and Styles, 1995). Funding from the Children’s Research Network Prevention and Early Intervention Research Initiative Senior Scholars Grant Scheme in 2018 has enabled us to explore these issues, using qualitative and quantitative data collected as part of a large-scale evaluation of the BBBS programme in Ireland (Dolan et al., 2011). A rich body of research data was gathered from mentors as part of the original evaluation of the BBBS programme but, due to time constraints, was not analysed during the evaluation or since it was completed. The current mixed-methods study will provide a valuable insight into the perspectives of mentors regarding the training and support available to them from the BBBS programme. It will allow for an exploration of their motivations for mentoring, how this motivation was sustained or reduced over the course of their mentoring match, and how programme staff supported them in dealing with challenges. The study will also provide an insight into the styles or approaches taken by mentors and explore how varying styles impacted on relationship dynamics and outcomes for young people. It will be the first study of this nature in an Irish context and will contribute to the international knowledge base in relation to youth mentoring interventions. The report and academic publications from the current study will be disseminated through various channels, including the websites of the Global Youth Mentoring Network7, European Centre for Evidence Based Mentoring8 and Chronicle of Evidence Based Mentoring9. The findings will be presented at a range of conferences and seminars, including the Foróige / Global Youth Mentoring Network conference Mentoring Young People Facing Adversity in Dublin in October 2018, which will provide an opportunity for practitioners and policy makers to inform their practice, based on the emerging findings and recommendations.