Although there are some obvious times when a mentoring match needs to end (such as a mentee moving away or a mentor seriously violating program rules), there are many other circumstances where matches fall into kind of a grey area. The mentor and mentee may not be meeting as frequently as they should or they might not be getting along. The mentee’s parent might be disrupting their child’s participation or perhaps the mentor feels like their efforts are ineffective and are thinking about walking away. Perhaps the mentor has violated a few small program rules and your staff is having doubts about their commitment… All of these are situations that might end in a terminated match. Or they could be a sign that the program needs to put even more effort into keeping a match going through a difficult time.
Where and how should programs draw that line? Given the importance of long-lasting matches, the pain caused by failed matches, and the difficulties around rematching highlighted in the work of Jean Rhodes and others, how can programs make good decisions around when to end the match? How can they tell that it’s the right time to end a match?
To explore these questions, we asked several prominent researchers, training providers, and practitioners to weigh in. Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!
I think deciding when to end a match is among the most difficult issues programs face when facilitating high quality mentoring relationships, especially for programs seeking to promote relationships whose duration is not pre-determined from the start. So often in the kinds of situations you describe mentors, youth, and parents can have very different ideas about how the relationship is going. This is where effective individualized case management is key. Skillful assessment of the challenges to the relationship is needed, from which decisions about how best to address these flow. A deflated mentor who feels underappreciated calls for a different response than do difficulties or misunderstandings between mentors and parents. One way to address match endings on a programmatic level is to have clear initial time commitments followed by a series of re-commitments, which offer planned opportunities for everyone to re-assess the relationship and make any adjustments that might be needed or to end the match. I also think that just as important as deciding whether to end a match is planning for how to end it. I have found in my own research that having advance notice that a match is going to end and an opportunity for the mentor and mentee to speak directly and say goodbye is important for all parties but seems to be especially so for youth and their parents.
When talking to programs about their match closure policies and procedures, I try to emphasize a mentee-centered approach. Too often, our closure practices become system-centered or adult-centered instead. What will be easiest for case management? Sometimes this means ending all matches at one year to keep caseloads manageable, regardless of the stage or strength of the match. How can we keep our number of and length of matches high? This might mean keeping matches “active” even when one of both of the individuals are no longer engaged in the relationship. Closure policies need to be mission and outcome driven – which means youth-centered. What will be best for the young people in our program? To safely and responsibly do our best to achieve our intended outcomes for them, what kind of mentors do we need to recruit? How should we screen and prepare them? What kind of staff capacity do we need to properly support and monitor our matches? Working on closure practices should come right after deciding on your mission, goals, objectives and evaluation plan because how you manage closure affects all of your other program operations.
The goal of the YouthBuild USA National Mentoring Alliance is to improve outcomes for YouthBuild participants through the support and guidance of a one-to-one relationship with a caring adult. YouthBuild’s match closure philosophy is premised upon the notion of youth voice and youth choice, a core value in the YouthBuild experience (serving 16 to 24 year old “opportunity youth”). While YouthBuild is careful to train staff and mentors on effective practice regarding durability of mentoring relationships, respecting the solid research of Jean Rhodes et al. in regard to the harmful effects of early termination, there are times when the mentee is dissatisfied with the mentor, and feels the mentor is not meeting his or her commitments to the relationship, or vice versa. In such cases, a meeting between mentor and mentee, facilitated by the Mentoring Coordinator, is encouraged to express feelings and agree on next steps. While the intent of such a meeting may be to close out the commitment, such an open expression of voice and choice has at times led to a recommitment to the relationship. The underlying philosophy is that the closure/termination of a mentoring relationship doesn’t “happen to” a mentee but with their full engagement. On the other end of the closure question, at the end of the committed match period, YouthBuild mentoring supports the philosophy of lifetime mentors, particularly for older youth who are empowered to make decisions about their relationships. While the official YouthBuild mentoring “match” commitment is for up to 15 months, we refer to “transition” rather than “closure,” reflecting the nature of a new phase and positive choices.
So what do you think? What factors go into your program’s decisions around match closure? How do you make it “youth-centered” s April put it? What processes do you use to make closure as positive as it can be?