Abstract: Emotional Impact of Relationship Endings for Youth in Formal Mentoring Programs (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Emotional Impact of Relationship Endings for Youth in Formal Mentoring Programs

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Thomas E. Keller, PhD, Professor, Portland State University
Renee Spencer, EdD, LICSW, Professor, Boston University School of Social Work, MA
Martha McCormack, PhD Doctoral Candidate, Doctoral Candidate, Portland State University
Miriam Miranda-Diaz, MSW, Doctoral Student, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Meghan Perry, MPA, Doctoral student, Portland State University
Alison L. Drew, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Boston University, Boston, MA
Hyuny Clark-Shim, MS, Doctoral Student, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Background: Formal youth mentoring is a popular intervention associated with positive developmental outcomes across multiple social, academic, and behavioral domains (DuBois et al, 2011). However, evaluations relying on comparisons of experimental group means don’t reflect the full range of program experiences. Longer-lasting matches tend to yield more positive outcomes, while early-ending matches can result in negative outcomes (Grossman & Rhodes, 2002). Research indicates 30-50% of formal youth mentoring relationships end prematurely, before program and participant agreements for match duration are met. Studies focusing only on developmental outcomes typically miss the emotional consequences associated with the dissolution of the mentoring relationship. The current study is among the first to investigate the feelings of youth mentees in reaction to relationship endings.

Methods: The data are from a prospective study of mentoring relationship development and duration in four agencies implementing the same one-to-one, community-based program model in which volunteers commit to mentoring for at least one year. Study participants were surveyed following the official closure of their matches, and this analysis focuses specifically on the responses of youth mentees (n=73) to questions assessing the emotional impact of their relationship endings. The survey employed an adapted version of the Extended Grief Inventory (Brown & Goodman, 2005) as well as several original items and open-ended questions.

Results: Asked how they felt about the ending of their matches, youth mentees were more likely to endorse negative rather than positive emotions: disappointed 69%, sad 40%, upset 38%, frustrated 16%, relieved 15%, glad 11%. Invited to provide one other word describing their feelings, youth expressed a wide range of responses (e.g., nonchalant, bittersweet, confused, shocked, unhappy, lonely, annoyed, angry, horrible, abandoned). On the Extended Grief Inventory, items from the “positive memories” subscale were most likely to be endorsed as mostly or very true (e.g., I enjoy good memories of my mentor 71%; I enjoy thinking about my mentor 53%). However, sizeable proportions also endorsed items from the traumatic grief subscale (e.g., I can’t bring myself to accept my match is really over 32%; I try not to think about my mentor because it brings up upsetting memories and feelings 21%), including responses indicating ways in which youth were affected negatively by the ending (e.g., I feel more lonely since my match ended 30%; It’s harder to trust people since my match ended 20%). Finally, a cluster analysis using scale items revealed a subset (n=12) that had particularly negative reactions and endorsed more extreme items (e.g., I feel my life is empty without my mentor; I think about getting revenge on my mentor).

Implications: Findings from this study, a first look at the emotional consequences of mentoring relationship terminations on youth, suggest that these relationships have meaning to youth beyond the life of the relationship and that the endings can elicit strong feelings. With the ethical imperative to do no harm to youth participants, mentoring programs should attend to the potential for loss and grief and provide adequate support to youth mentees during and after a relationship ending.