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Matching children and young people with mentors who provide guidance and support.

Estimated impact on violent crime:


Evidence quality:

1 2 3 4 5


1 2 3

Prevention Type

  • Secondary


  • Community


  • Adults that they trust

What is it?

Mentoring matches a child with a mentor and encourages them to meet regularly. It aims to help the child form a good relationship with a positive role model. This relationship could help the child to develop social skills, form constructive relationships with others, and develop positive behaviours and aspirations.

Mentors are often adults, but they can also be older children or peers of mentees. Mentors can sometimes be paid but are often volunteers, and will usually meet with their mentees regularly over an extended period. In some programmes, mentoring sessions follow a set agenda and involve specific activities. Other, programmes are less structured and the mentoring relationship is expected to evolve naturally. Mentoring can often take place in the context of other activities. For example, programmes might use sport or music as an engaging context for mentoring.

There are several ways in which the mentor might support the mentee.

  • Acting as a positive role-model.
  • Developing a trusting relationship and providing emotional support.
  • Providing instruction to help the mentee develop academic, job or social skills.
  • Listening carefully and asking questions to help the mentee gain insight into their own thinking.
  • Providing practical support with job applications or access to services.
  • Sharing their networks and introducing mentees to new people and opportunities.

Is it effective?

On average, mentoring programmes are likely to have a moderate impact on violent crime.

Mentoring is effective in both reducing crime and the behaviours associated with crime and violence. The research suggests that, on average, mentoring reduces crime by 26%. There is also strong evidence that mentoring can reduce behavioural difficulties and substance use and improve self-regulation – three important predictors of violence.

The research suggests that, on average, mentoring reduces crime by 26%.

However, impact varies widely depending on the approach taken. The research suggests that mentoring programmes could potentially cause harm if not done well.

When is it most effective?

  • Programmes with a greater proportion of male mentors and male mentees have been more effective. However, recruiting male mentors might be challenging – programmes tended to include a greater proportion of female volunteers.
  • Mentoring has been more effective when it focuses on a particular issue, such as substance use. This suggests that programmes should begin with and respond to assessments of the child’s needs and strengths.
  • Research found larger impacts when mentors had professional experience of working with young people and were taking part for their own professional development.
  • Programmes have had a greater impact when they focused on providing emotional support to the mentee or the mentor worked as an advocate for the mentee, ensuring they had access to services and opportunities.

The research has not found a meaningful difference between the impact of structured and unstructured programmes or between programmes described as having a general, academic, behavioural, or psychosocial focus.

How secure is the evidence?

We have high confidence in our estimate of the average impact on violent crime.

Reviews of many studies have demonstrated that mentoring can prevent crime overall and have an impact on three important predictors of violence. We have not awarded the highest evidence rating because of the high variation in the estimates provided by the underlying research. Some studies suggest that mentoring can have a more positive impact while other studies suggest that the impact is smaller.

The YEF’s Evidence and Gap Map contained two studies from the UK and Ireland. One study was a randomised control trial of the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring programme with children aged 10-14 in Ireland. The study suggested that the programme failed to have an impact on behaviour or substance use.

How can you implement it well?

How will you support mentees and mentors to take part?

Evaluations often show that many mentoring relationships are not maintained. One review of 11 programmes found that over half the mentoring relationships formed at the start of programmes were not maintained for the whole programme.

This review suggested the following considerations for supporting mentees to stay involved.

  • What do the children involved say would help them to engage in the service? Seeking their views could provide useful insights. For example, they might appreciate getting involved in extra activities, such as sport or music, which run alongside the mentoring programme.
  • Where and when will the mentoring take place? How will you make it easy to attend? Some projects failed to engage mentees because they chose unsuitable locations which were either far from the mentee or where the mentee felt unsafe.
  • How should mentors be matched? Some programmes have found that enabling mentees to choose their mentor led to a stronger relationship.

Research has also considered approaches to increasing the participation of mentors. Mentors are often volunteers and might not have prior experience of supporting young people. Mentors report that both initial training and ongoing support can help them feel safe and well-equipped for their roles. Training could provide:

  1. Information about the project, the mentees and local services for children
  2. Skills development, especially listening and non-judgmental counselling skills
  3. Discussion and role play
  4. Do’s and don’ts of being a mentor
  5. Information about the safeguarding process
  6. An emphasis on seeing the perspective of the mentee and treating him or her with respect

Evaluations suggest there is often little or no supervision of mentors and this is a barrier to effective implementation.

How will you support the development of the mentoring relationship?

The relationship between mentor and mentee is at the core of the approach. Developing a strong relationship will take time. Several regular meetings will usually be required for the relationship to move beyond a casual chat. The cue for a deeper relationship is often the opportunity to deal with a particular issue faced by the mentee such as a problem at home or school.

How and when will the mentoring end?

The ending of mentor-mentee relationships can cause harm if not managed carefully. Mentees can feel abandoned when their mentor leaves the programme. Do you have clear protocols for managing the ending of relationships and providing support to mentees?

How much does it cost?

On average, the cost of mentoring is likely to be high.

Mentors are often (but not always) unpaid volunteers. However, there are likely to be substantial costs related to the salaries of project staff, project management, recruitment and training of mentors, and the cost of premises. The cost per participant can become very high if large numbers of mentors or mentees do not complete the programme. For example, the YJB funded a series of mentoring programmes over 2001 – 2004 which cost an average of £5,042 per child (2014 prices). However, many mentors and mentees did not take part. If we only include mentees which met with mentors for at least two sessions, the cost per participant increases to £11,903.

Topic summary

  • On average, mentoring is likely to have beneficial impacts. Previous studies have found a lot of variation in impacts and have provided information about the characteristics of the more effective programmes. This information could help to maximise the impact of mentoring.
  • Mentoring programmes can be challenging to deliver. Programmes frequently encounter challenges with keeping mentors and mentees engaged and there are often large numbers of mentors and mentees who drop out.
  • Mentors are often unpaid volunteers so mentoring can initially seem like a cheap approach to take. However, there are often substantial costs related to project management and recruiting and supporting mentors. If large numbers of mentors and mentees do not complete the programme the cost per participant can increase dramatically.

Advice for commissioning mentoring programmes
EIF guidance for commissioners on commissioning mentoring programmes.

Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring
Guidance from the MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership.


© 2022 The Youth Endowment Fund Charitable Trust. Registered Charity Number: 1185413.
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