Strengthening Resilience in Mentoring Relationships

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A Working Paper written by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child focused on the idea of developing and strengthening the foundations of resilience through supportive relationships and skill-building.

In the Adolescent Initiative Program at Tabor, we focus on creating youth that can live independent lives after aging out of the foster care system at 21. Whatever adversity they’ve faced throughout their lives (poverty, neglect, mental illness, trauma, etc.), we try to find ways to create a foundation of support, life skills and resources for each of our youth. In the Mentoring Program, we aim to create a committed relationship between mentor and mentee that will help support the youth after they have aged out of care and help to empower them as they become independent members of society.

In this paper, they discuss the different ways we define resilience in terms of a “positive, adaptive response in the face of significant adversity.” Based on several longitudinal studies about child development under conditions of adversity, this paper discusses the following points (cited from the aforementioned paper):

  • Resilience results from a dynamic interaction between internal predispositions and external experiences.
    • Children who do well when faced with adversity show “intrinsic resistance” as well as strong relationships with important adults in their families or communities
  • Resilience is seen in how the brain, the immune system and genes respond to experiences during development.
    • If you have taken the Mentor Training at Tabor, you know that this is something we discuss in depth. Brain development, neuroplasticity, genetics and the (new and fascinating!) discussion of mirror neurons all interplay to create a web of resiliency in youth. You can read more in depth on these factors in the above-linked article.
  • Resilience requires relationships, not rugged Individualism.
    • This is a very important point. Many associate resilience with grit or self-reliance. Recent studies now show us that the reliable presence of “at least one supportive relationship and multiple opportunities for developing effective coping skills” can help youth better develop resiliency.
  • How individuals respond to stressful experiences varies dramatically, but extreme adversity nearly always generates the serious problems that require treatment.
    • This is another important point: Because many of our youth have been through very traumatic experiences, therapeutic interventions (tailored to individual needs) are often a part of the road to Independent Living.

These are just a few of the many great discussion points in this article that help us to shape the way we support youth as they age out of foster care, and, moreover, youth on the road to independent living and becoming functional members of society. I encourage you to take the time to read this paper, as it was informative and offered some points to think and reflect on as we continue to look for ways to connect with and inspire youth.

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Adult-youth relationships: The critical ingredient across interventions

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Going along with our conversation about friendship maintenance (see previous post on 3/19), here is a helpful article that explains the dynamics of a developmental relationship between adult-youth in a few different contexts. According to the article there are a few different criteria that constitute a developmental relationship between an adult and a youth (below is an excerpt of the article found here):

  • Attachment – any emotional connection that is natural, positive, and appropriate (i.e.) teacher and student, coach and player
  • Reciprocity – with sustained and frequent joint activities, the level and type of scaffolding/support from the adult is dynamic and adjusts with the youth’s development
  • Progressive Complexity – as an adult’s support fades or the activity advances, a child is engaged in progressively more complex patterns of behavior
  • Balance of Power– with increasing complexity and the decrease of adult scaffolding the child becomes more independent (power shifts from adult-driven to a balance with youth-driven)

These criteria definitely describe some of the dynamics of a mentoring relationship. The article goes on to describe the important factors that help a mentoring relationship by meeting a mentee where they are and slowly shifting the balance of power with scaffolding. Read the above link to the study/publication, “Developing relationships as the active ingredient: A unifying working hypothesis of “what works” across intervention settings,” to get the full scope of “ingredients” and insight into a developmental mentoring relationship.

What do you do in your free time? Point and Counterpoint

POINT:  Lots of people with busy schedules don’t feel the need to reach out to friends, and sometimes consider ‘friendship maintenance’ a (necessary) burden to keep your friends.

This conversation was sparked after I perused a post with this quote in it. Lots of people were sharing it: donthavetime

Certainly, life fills in, and sometimes the queue of return phone calls becomes overwhelming. And we all have those friends where a lot of time passes, and when you catch up, it feels as if none has passed at all.

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EVIDENCE: Here is an Op-Ed from the New York Times that illustrates one woman’s take on friendship maintenancePhoto taken from NYT website.

COUNTERPOINT: Sometimes a friendship or relationship NEEDS maintenance. Especially a mentoring relationship. When establishing trust, creating common ground and navigating through tough times, sometimes the maintenance is the difference between showing who is going to stick around, and who doesn’t have time to devote.

According to a recent study and article by Jean Rhodes (click the link to read more!),

“According to a recent Gallup poll, 75 percent of adults reported that it is “very important” to have meaningful conversations with children and youth outside their immediate families, yet fewer than 35 percent reported actually having any such conversations in the past year.”

So, congrats mentors, you are a part of that 35%!

For those of you looking to make a difference, we ask: 

What do you want to do with your free time?

Mentoring and Social Media Platforms

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Quite often, we have discussions at our monthly in-service meetings about the shifting of communication between mentor and mentee towards texting and social media. With the ease of communication through text, and, often through social media outlets such as Facebook or Instagram (our mentees often don’t have reliable cell phones or modes of communication), these aspects of the digital age help to create more consistent communication between mentor and mentee than, say, only phone conversations would. With these added forms of communications come questions and new guidelines for mentoring programs:

Could this be a way to find my mentee if he/she stops responding to texts/calls? Often, yes.

In certain circumstances, it would be appropriate to reach out this way, as sometimes, phones are broken or go missing or bills go unpaid, and your mentee might have a hard time contacting you if your number wasn’t written down somewhere. Checking in via Facebook is something that works for some mentors/mentees, but other matches prefer not to ‘friend’ each other. Defining personal boundaries is important for both mentor and mentee, and, in terms of social media, Tabor staff also does our own social media background checks.

Could this provide a teachable opportunity for youth (and mentors!) and what is appropriate for posting on social media? YES.

With Facebook being the main social media outlet, often times we don’t think about what is accessible to the public. Whether it’s a picture of a youth at a party, or a picture of YOU at a party– remember, social media is a two-way street and all of your information as well as your mentee’s could be visible. Make sure to follow your mentoring program’s guidelines (as well as common sense!) to ensure proper boundaries are maintained.

In a recent study, aspects of the digital age were observed through the lens of the mentoring relationship. For a gist: click here. For the entire study: click here.

Both are great reads and help us gain insight into how to tailor our Mentoring Program in the Digital Age! We look forward to having a speaker about cyberbullying and internet etiquette during one of our Spring In-Services! We are also looking to provide this information to our youth at a Youth Advisory Meeting this upcoming Spring.

Also, click to enlarge the Infographic below to discover more about teens and social media.

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The Art of the Match

At Tabor Mentoring Program, we pride ourselves on a thorough screening process for potential mentors and, while it does take a little longer, we are very selective in our matching process. We, piece by piece, try to identify the commonalities, strengths and potential of each match— and sometimes this can take a little longer. But, our proof is in the pudding!

The below podcast illustrates a very key component of why our matches are selective. The Attachment Process. Because our mentees, youth in the child welfare system, have already had significant trauma, turbulent childhoods, a lack of consistent support or role models, or any number of combination of these three, we try to avoid every scenario that would further create insecurities or trauma in our youth- this means creating a lasting relationship with a mentor that is in it for the long-haul. Now, sometimes our youth move from place to place, or, occasionally, we have a mentor that has relocated– and this is all part of life. But, the key is appropriately addressing the attachment process by providing thorough closure, or being creative with how the mentoring relationship can continue; we have mentors and mentees that write letters, email or even FaceTime to stay connected– whether they are on a vacation or have a placement change. While we strongly encourage face-to-face time if possible, we understand that there are circumstances in which this becomes difficult and we are focused on preserving the mentoring relationship.

Read and listen below for a fantastic look at the attachment styles of youth and how mentoring relationships can affect their attachment styles. It can shed some light on the reasoning behind our thorough matching process. This podcast also discusses an often talked about concern: the relationship with a mentee’s parents or guardians.

connected-community-mentor-matchPODCAST: The legacy of early relationships:

How attachment styles shape mentoring

The Cost of the Cost- College seems more attainable if affordable for students

In staying with our theme of higher education, I’d like to shed some light on this article-

-another great one by NPR’s staff.

College: I’ll Only Go If I Know (That I Can Afford It)

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At Tabor Mentoring, we have a variety of programs that hope to encourage our youth to live independently, and, often times, attend college or a career training program. Our College Mentoring Program works with our Life Skills curriculum to bolster youth’s knowledge of grants, loans, deadlines and requirements. We help each youth interested in attending college to fill out a FAFSA, apply for a CHAFEE grant and find the best fit for them. We have great relationships with local community college campuses and arrange tours and meetings with Admissions often. Many of our youth qualify for grants that will allow them to attend college for and extremely low cost–or free.

The above article highlights the gaps in confidence and practicality that our youth face when thinking about the intimidating time after high school. “What are you going to do with your life?” Many times, youth in foster care are struggling day-to-day and aren’t thinking about the future. At Tabor, we offer many resources, but this article really showed how much a mentor is needed in each youth’s life. Someone to bounce ideas off of. Someone to tell them that their ambitions can be attained. Someone that can motivate them to stay the course through high school and college to better their career opportunities as they move to independent living.

While this article doesn’t come right out and say it, the message is clear: Mentors are needed!

Campus Life through the eyes of a first-generation student

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With a lot of our mentees being the first in their families or circle of friends to attend college, comes a dynamic that many of us have not experienced: having to explain your background to new acquaintances and having to justify college to your old circles. This dynamic is beautifully illustrated in NPR’s article, “Fitting In On Campus- Challenges for First-Generation Students.” The article helped shed light on what some our our mentees might go through during their years on campus and also helped to provide us with ways to offer additional support to our mentees that might be heading to college in the fall.

Please share your insights into how to support or what you went through as a college student and what might have helped you!