Background: Earlier studies indicated that mentoring relationships operate through improving the youth’s social and emotional development and by enhancing both cognitive development and positive identity development (Ahrens et al., 2016; Rhodes, 2005). These processes are very important during the transitional period from care to independence because they play a dominant role in the developmental tasks during emerging adulthood. During this period, all young people must use their acquired life skills in order to make significant decisions about housing, employment, career, and marriage (Arnett, 2000). However, due to the often-turbulent move from state care to independent living and the limited support resources available during the transition (Greeson, Garcia, Kim & Courtney, 2015), these skills are frequently required immediately upon leaving care. This study’s goal was to examine the contribution of natural mentoring relationships to the life skills of youth on the verge of leaving care in the core areas of: education, employment, and avoidance of risk behaviors, while controlling for the youth’s personal characteristics (age, gender, ethnicity, parents education, and parents’ family status) and placement history (the type of their current placement (foster care, welfare residential setting or educational residential setting) and the length of stay in their current placement).
Methods: The sample included 174 adolescents in residential care in Israel from three main types of out-of-home placements that agreed to participate in the study voluntary: therapeutic residential care facilities, youth villages, and foster care families. The instruments tapped the young adult's personal background (e.g. gender, ethnicity, mothers' education and total placements), life skills and mentoring (e.g., longevity, duration and function in relationship).
Results: Results showed the amongst the three life skill areas, adolescents' education skills were the lowest. Significant gender differences in avoidance of risk behaviors skills. Length of stay in the current facility was positively related to skills for avoidance of risk behaviors. Also, mentoring duration and mentoring functions including: mentor as 'role model', 'parental figure’, and 'independence promoter' significantly contributed to the prediction of the three life skills above and beyond control variables.
Conclusions and implications: The present study emphasizes the importance of mentoring for the cultivation of concrete life skills of youth in care and highlights the array of meaningful roles mentors play in youth’s development of life skills. Also, the study identifies important practice implications regarding the mechanism by which mentoring relationships contribute to the resilience of adolescents.