Abstract: The Role of Informal Mentors in the Lives of Transitional-Age Foster Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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The Role of Informal Mentors in the Lives of Transitional-Age Foster Youth

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Grace Gowdy, PhD, Assistant Professor, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Greensboro, NC
Sean Hogan, PhD, Associate Professor, California State University, Fullerton, CA
Background and Purpose: Informal mentoring, a naturally-occurring caring relationship with a non-parental adult, has been shown to promote positive outcomes for young people. Foster youth represent a unique population of young people who require additional supports to successfully transition from foster care to adulthood. Recent research has distinguished two primary types of mentoring relationships beneficial to young people: core and capital mentoring. Core mentors tend to come from the young person’s social and extended-familial network, while capital mentors tend to be more institutionally-based. While both types of mentors are valuable to the socio-emotional development of youth, the contribution of each type of mentoring relationship in the lives of young people warrants additional research. This study examined the role of core and capital mentors in providing differential emotional, informational, and instrumental support in the lives of former and current foster youth preparing to transition to adulthood through higher education.

Methods: This study gathered social network, social capital, and mentoring information from 123 former and current foster youth just prior to attending a four-year university. Study participants were recruited with the assistance of child welfare and campus support programs in southern California. Data were transformed so each observation was a mentor, not a foster youth reporting multiple mentors. Data related to each mentor included mentor role, relationship duration, frequency of contact, and various types of assistance provided by the mentor to the youth. To create different profiles of mentoring relationships, cluster analysis, a person-centered approach, was used. After these relationship profiles were created and validated, a series of chi-square tests were run on relationship profiles and types of support offered by the mentor.

Findings. Two distinct clusters emerged representative of our core and capital mentoring typologies. There were 378 mentoring relationships available to 113 foster youth; 10 youth reported not having any mentoring relationships. A majority of the mentors (63%) qualified as core mentors (n = 238); 37% of the relationships reported qualified as capital mentors (n = 140). The majority of capital mentors were either school personnel (37%) or other paid professionals, such as a social workers (37%). Chi-square tests indicated that core mentors were more likely to provide various kinds of instrumental support while capital mentors were more likely to provide informational support (p < .01). There was no significant difference in emotional support provided by mentoring type.

Conclusions and Implications: The findings from this study on the provision of instrumental and informational support to young people by core and capital mentors were consistent with previous research. Unexpectedly, both types of mentors were equally likely to provide emotional support. This may be attributed to an expectancy among mentors as to the emotional needs of foster youth, when compared to the general population. These findings can increase knowledge related to the mentoring dynamics associated with former and current foster youth transitioning to adulthood, as well as inform social and educational service providers in their support of this unique population.