While this bourgeoning research on the positive impacts of mentoring for foster care alumni is promising, it sparks new questions. Who do foster care alumni consider their mentors to be and how did they meet them? Are there different types of mentors that foster care alumni have and do these different types of mentors promote different outcomes? Most importantly, how can social workers best support the development and maintenance of these relationships to increase the likelihood of more young people aging of out of care successfully?
Our symposium presents three papers that are on the frontlines of answering these pressing questions. The first presents quantitative data from a study on the social networks, social capital, and informal mentors of former and current foster youth. This study found that there are two types of informal mentors available to foster care alumni: core mentors and capital mentors. Core mentors are likelier to be extended family members, including foster family members, that live near the young person and provide instrumental support. Capital mentors are from outside of the young personâ€™s immediate network, have not known the young person as long, and provide bridging capital. The second paper presents qualitative data from semi-structured interviews with recent foster care alumni. These former foster youth talked about the supportive relationships in their lives as they transitioned out of care and the types of support they received from their social networks. In congruence with the first paper, this study found that support provided by an informal mentor was largely role dependent, with caseworkers providing informational support and extended family mentors, including former foster parents and former foster siblings, providing emotional support. The final paper of this symposium ties recent findings in mentorship back to intervention development by using participatory action research approaches to understand how an existing intervention (Transforming Impossible into Possible) can be adapted for former foster youth. This study found that former foster youth want to build trust with their informal mentors, as they see these relationships as vital to their goal of self-sufficiency.
Finally, our symposium discussant, an expert on mentoring, will integrate the presented studies and reflect on how the knowledge generated can be used to promote impactful mentoring relationships for former foster youth.