Headlines: June 16th, 2004

There is a warning today that policy makers who have promoted mentoring as the answer to a wide range of problems facing young people need to be more discriminating about its benefits, even though well-run mentoring programmes had succeeded in helping disaffected young people make positive changes in their lives.The crime prevention charity, Crime Concern, has carried out the most extensive evaluation so far of mentoring programmes across Britain. It focuses on ‘Mentoring Plus’ programmes, run in ten English locations and concludes that they helped a significant number of vulnerable and high-risk young people to take up education, training and work opportunities.

But it also found there was no evidence, at the time young people completed the programmes, that mentoring had an impact on crime, drug and alcohol use, family relationships or self-esteem – all areas which are less targeted by the intervention. In the light of this the researchers are calling for service planners to be more realistic in their view of what a mentoring programme can reasonably be expected to deliver.

The research team, from the Mannheim Centre for Criminology at the London School of Economics, monitored the progress of more than 370 young people, aged between 12 and 19 who followed the Mentoring Plus programme. The system combines one-to-one support from a volunteer recruited from the local community with a programme of education, training and social activities.

They found that more than half the young people went on to engage with the programme on a regular basis. The programmes were especially successful with young people at high risk of social exclusion, including young black people. The majority of young participants considered the programme helpful but most mentoring relationships did not progress beyond a cycle of social meetings and activities. Although levels of offending fell markedly among participants in the mentoring programme, there was a similar decline in a comparison group of non-participants. Carefully implemented programmes among the ten that were studied achieved the greatest impact in terms of encouraging young people into education and work.