Abstract: Enhancing Staff Attunement in Youth Mentoring Programs (Society for Social Work and Research 21st Annual Conference - Ensure Healthy Development for all Youth)

466P Enhancing Staff Attunement in Youth Mentoring Programs

Saturday, January 14, 2017
Bissonet (New Orleans Marriott)
* noted as presenting author
Julia M. Pryce, PhD, Associate Professor, Loyola University, Chicago, Chicago, IL
Linda Gilkerson, PhD, Professor, Erikson Institute, Chicago, IL
Melissa Haggerty, Research Assistant, Loyola University, Chicago, Chicago, IL
Johanna Barry, MSW, Graduate Research Assistant, Loyola University, Chicago, Chicago, IL
Rachel Brown, Undergraduate Research Assistant, Loyola University, Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose

Despite the popularity of youth mentoring over the last twenty years, almost half of these relationships close prematurely, and these relationships often lack a strong connection. Yet, research continually supports the critical importance of close connection across the system of mentoring relationships (i.e., between mentoring staff, mentor, youth, parent; Keller, 2005) to facilitate the positive outcomes most aspired to by this popular intervention.

The purpose of this presentation is to discuss findings from a training (i.e., Mentoring FAN; Facilitating Attuned INteractions) focused on developing interpersonal attunement (i.e., strategy to read, interpret, and reflect on verbal and nonverbal cues flexibly, with capacity to adapt expectations based on others’ interests). The concept emerged from mentoring work (Pryce, 2011), and the training incorporates insights from this as well as from the study of helping relationships across multiple domains (Gilkerson & Gray, 2013). It is hypothesized that participation in the training increases staff empathy, as well as connection between staff and the mentors they support.


Findings are the result a mixed-method design involving staff of two mentoring organizations (n=28). Staff participants completed a questionnaire prior to, and six months following, the training. Questionnaires included demographic questions and scales focused on interpersonal reactivity and empathy (Interpersonal Reactivity Index; IRI; Empathy Quotient, EQ-8) and mindfulness (Mindful Attention Awareness Scale; MAAS). Process evaluation data was collected from staff on a monthly basis during a five month “practice” period following the training.  In addition, 15 staff participated in a semi-structured interview focused on impact of the training. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed thematically, exploring the meaning and application of the training among staff. 10 mentors supported by trained staff also shared their experience through a written mentor feedback form.


A paired-samples t-test (n=28) was conducted to examine changes between baseline and follow up.  Based on analysis of the pre-and post-tests, findings suggest statistically significant differences in staff interpersonal reactivity (t (28) = -2.22, p = .04), indicating that mentors developed an increase in empathy after the intervention.  Process evaluation data suggests increased confidence of staff in identifying their own feelings and that of mentors they support. Qualitative data further contextualize these findings (e.g., “I was able to grow in terms of really attending to the mentor. I developed a real intentionality about observing their cues and asking more probing questions depending on them…I became a better listener in the process.”). Interview findings illuminate unexpected themes, such as increased sense of purpose in their work supporting mentors. Mentor feedback further reinforces the strengthening of connection between staff and mentors as a result of this training.

Conclusions and Implications

Although preliminary, these results are encouraging in demonstrating change across qualities associated with stronger interpersonal relationships. Staff express enthusiasm and validation in participating in the training (e.g., “There’s always focus on relationship, but now we finally know how to do it!”) Findings suggest promise for attunement training of mentoring staff and of mentors themselves, as well as for interpersonal skill training within other helping relationships.