The group setting: Responding to problems with continuity

Youth mentoring programmes are common around the world as prevention programmes. However, evaluation of such programmes finds again and again that their positive effects are small in magnitude (DuBois et al., 2011).

Therefore, it is becoming increasingly clear that we cannot simply assume that pairing up any young person with a mentor will automatically lead to large positive effects (Lyons, McQullin, & Henderson, 2018).

Our unique approach to mentoring stands out not only due to our character-focused curriculum, but also due to our unique group framework.

At Citywise, we are leading the way in responding to these challenges. For example, follow this link to read about our mentoring model with a targeted character-focused curriculum.

Problems with continuity

One of the most common problems that mentoring programmes face includes difficulties with continuity. Rhodes (2002) has previously suggested that only about a half of formal one-to-one mentoring relationships last more than a few months. Challenges include both sudden terminations (Spencer, 2007) and not meeting often enough (de Anda, 2001). This finding is concerning because both of these are harmful to youth (Karcher, 2005; Spencer, 2007).

The Citywise approach

One of the things that make our approach at Citywise unique is the group framework within which we operate. Each mentoring group includes about 12 mentors and 12 mentees in fixed mentor-mentee pairs. They meet together on a weekly basis for up to 2 hours. Such a framework offers the unique opportunity to develop individual mentor-mentee relationships in the broader context of other inter-dependent relationships.

How this helps

This broader supportive structure responds to problems with continuity in several ways. First of all, our mentors at Citywise commit to coming regularly (every week) and long-term (for the full year) to the group sessions. This level of accountability with supervised weekly sessions led by the project leader can help create structure and continuity.

The group setting connects mentees to a broader supportive structure. Even in the mentor’s absence, a child is therefore still connected to the programme.

Secondly, if a mentor is missing, their mentee can still attend the session. They will usually receive a note from their mentor passed to them through the project leader; they still take part in the games and curriculum, and they work with a different mentor or mentor-mentee group.

The above also makes the transition to a new mentor easier if a child’s mentor has to leave. Although we do not like to see this happen, it is not always possible to prevent drop-outs. According to the results of thematic analysis of focus groups with our mentees, the broader communication framework which makes it possible for children to come when their mentor cannot, also leads them to identify with the whole group of mentors and mentees rather than just their one mentor.

One child whose mentor had to leave midway described changing mentors like this: “It was kind of like restarting, but I kind of felt at home.” So while this process can still be difficult, mentees are not left alone and can make use of connections they have already formed within the group setting of the programme to continue being mentored within Citywise. In practice this means that neither a mentor’s absence nor their termination leads to disconnection from the programme.

Altogether then, the group setting responds well to the difficulty with continuity in mentoring practice, and is important for our programme to be a success!


de Anda, D. (2001). A qualitative evaluation of a mentor program for at-risk youth: The participants’ perspective. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 18(2), 97-117. doi:10.1023/A:1007646711937

DuBois, D. L., Portillo, N., Rhodes, J. E., Silverthorn, N., & Valentine, J. C. (2011). How Effective Are Mentoring Programs for Youth? A Systematic Assessment of the Evidence. Public Interest, 12(2), 57-91. doi:10.1177/1529100611414806

Karcher, M. J. (2005). The effects of developmental mentoring and high school mentors’ attendance on their younger mentees’ self‐esteem, social skills, and connectedness. Psychology in the Schools, 42(1), 65-77. doi:10.1002/pits.20025

Lyons, M. D., McQullin, S. D., & Henderson, L. J. (2018). Finding the Sweet Spot: Investigating the Effects of Relationship Closeness and Instrumental Activities in School-based Mentoring. American Journal of Community Psychology, 1–11.

Rhodes, J.E. (2002). Stand by me: The risks and rewards of mentoring today’s youth. Cambridge,MA: Harvard University Press.

Spencer, R. (2007). It’s not what I expected: A qualitative study of youth mentoring relationship failures. Journal of Adolescent Research, 22(4), 331-354. doi:10.1177/0743558407301915