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Guiney, Ciara (2020) Reducing youth crime: role of mentoring. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 74, Summer 2020 , pp. 19-21.

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In October 2019, Kieran O’Dwyer, a consultant and trainer within the field of criminal justice and restorative practices, published an article, entitled Reducing youth crime: the role of mentoring.1 The article discussed the results of an evaluation of a La Chéile mentoring programme, which is delivered to young people aged 12–21 years who come before the criminal courts in Ireland.2 

Mentoring programmes

Mentoring programmes are based on the idea that a relationship developed between a mentor (older person) and a mentee (younger person) may assist the young person to cope with adversity and may help them to cultivate a positive sense of themselves and their future.3 Programmes that target youths involved with the criminal justice system are mainly designed to provide support and guidance, thus enabling the young person to become a responsible adult. The presence of a mentor is also considered to offset the absence of a responsible adult in the life of that young person.4 

Effectiveness of mentoring in reducing offending

The author acknowledged that evidence on the impact of mentoring on reoffending is a relatively new area of research and lacking in clarity. For example, a report by the Ministry of Justice in the United Kingdom (UK) argued that analysis of reviews and meta-analyses was ‘promising’.5 However, the authors advised that results should be interpreted with caution due to programme variation and insufficient information on the mentoring context and how it was implemented.5 An earlier report nonetheless indicated that only some programmes resulted in positive outcomes.6 In contrast, a review of programmes supported and funded by the Youth Justice Board in the UK found that after one year in a mentoring programme, evidence to suggest offending or severity in offending had reduced was unconvincing.7 In fact, when reoffending rates were compared between mentees and corresponding national cohorts (n=359), rates for mentoring programmes fared worse.8 

Factors critical to success in mentoring

Drawing on the research evidence base, the author identified several factors1 that were necessary for mentoring to be effective:

  • Frequent contact and emotional closeness should be developed over a minimum period of 6–12 months.
  • There should be weekly meetings of five hours or more.
  • Volunteer mentors should be screened, matched, trained, supported and supervised.
  • Attitudes and attributes of mentors should be considered.
  • The advocacy role on behalf of the mentee was vital.
  • The nature of the mentoring relationship should be considered.
  • Interventions should combine mentoring and leisure-time programmes with a focus on psychological and sociological development.
  • There should be an emphasis on emotional support.
  • Mentoring should involve intensive training and structured activities.
  • The organisation and administration of schemes should be considered.1 

La Chéile mentoring

In Ireland, Le Chéile mentoring service collaborates with the Probation Service in Dublin, Cork, Meath, the Midlands, the South-East, and the South-West. Referrals are mainly made by the Probation Service and mentoring is carried out as part of probation supervision. Each area is overseen by a coordinator responsible for recruiting, training, supervising, and supporting volunteer mentors. Mentors are mainly mature persons (aged 20 plus) who come from all walks of life and are non-judgemental, unbiased, and enjoy working with youth. Their main role is to assist, provide stability and advice, and help mentees make decisions and achieve goals. When a mentor and mentee are matched, the mentoring relationship is prioritised and built on via participation in social and fun activities, which is followed by setting attainable goals and tasks. Sessions are of two hours’ duration each week for approximately 6–12 months and occasionally longer. 

Le Chéile mentoring evaluation

Methodology

Information was collected from several sources, for example, young people, parents, mentors, coordinators, and the Probation Service, via interviews and surveys. Areas examined via self-report included:

  • Participants’ perceptions of mentoring at start and end
  • Coordinators and Probation Service staff perceptions’ of mentees at start and end
  • The extent that mentoring brought about change. 

Phases of relationship building and challenging

Mentoring consisted of two phases:

1          Relationship-building phase: This lasted 6–8 weeks but sometimes longer and was tailored to the needs of the individual. The aim at this stage is for mentors and mentees to get to know each other and build trust via fun activities. If this phase is rushed, it can result in failure.

2          Challenging, target-focused phase: This prioritised goal setting using a ‘softly, softly’ approach, where behaviour and attitudes are challenged in ‘subtle, progressive, encouraging and supportive ways’ (p. 163).1 

Results

A reduction in reoffending was reported by approximately 28% of participants along with several other outcomes. These include:

  • Improved family and peer relationships
  • Involvement in activities outside the home
  • Reduction in misuse of alcohol and drugs
  • Involvement in education, work, and training
  • Increased self-confidence and wellbeing (p. 10).2 

In addition, several programme strengths emerged in the evaluation:

  • Space, time, and exclusive focus on the mentee
  • Patience and persistence of mentors and coordinators
  • Unpaid volunteer mentors
  • Personality of mentors
  • Close relationships of mentees with their mentors
  • Mentoring values, non-judgemental and attentive
  • Provision of structure and routine
  • Flexibility of mentoring
  • Mentoring tailored to individual needs. 

Limitations

The author acknowledged several limitations in the Le Chéile evaluation. No control group was utilised and the offending data provided was based on self-reports, not on independent offending data. In addition, the design of the study was not longitudinal. Further information on these limitations can be found in the evaluation report.2 

Conclusion

As acknowledged by the author, evidence from the international literature was mixed. Disparities between mentoring programmes made comparison difficult. However, specific aspects – such as emotional connection and relationship between mentor and mentee, regular contact, length of programme (six months or longer), structured activities, and parental support – have emerged as areas that are likely to result in positive outcomes when included. Evaluation of the Le Chéile mentoring programme indicated that offending reported by participants was negatively related to mentoring, that is, as mentoring increased, self-reported offending reduced. The author concluded that the Le Chéile programme provides strong evidence that mentoring results in participating less in criminal activities, while at the same time increases ‘life chances’ for those involved in the programme (p. 165).1 

1 O’Dwyer K (2019) Reducing youth crime: the role of mentoring. Irish Probation Journal, 16 (10): 153–167. Available online at: https://www.pbni.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Reducing-Youth-Crime.pd

2 O’Dwyer K (2017) Reducing youth crime in Ireland: an evaluation of Le Chéile mentoring. Dublin: Le Chéile. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/27105

3 Dolan P, Brady B, O’Regan C, Canavan J, Russell D and Forkan C (2011) Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Ireland: evaluation study. Report 3: summary report. Galway: UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre on behalf of Foróige. Available online at: https://aran.library.nuigalway.ie/bitstream/handle/10379/4498/BBBS_Report_3.pdf

4 Danish Crime Prevention Council (DKR) (2012) The effectiveness of mentoring and leisure-time activities for youth at risk: a systematic review. Glosrup: Danish Crime Prevention Council. Available online at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326508283_The_Effectiveness_of_Mentoring_and_Leisure-Time_Activities_A_Systematic_Review_for_Youth_at_Risk

5 Adler JR, Edwards SK, Scally M, et al. (2016) What works in managing young people who offend? A summary of the international evidence. London: Ministry of Justice. Available online at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/what-works-in-managing-young-people-who-offend

6 Ministry of Justice (2014) Transforming rehabilitation: a summary of evidence on reducing reoffending. 2nd edn. London: Ministry of Justice. Available online at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/transforming-rehabilitation-a-summary-of-evidence-on-reducing-reoffending

7 St James-Roberts I, Greenlaw G, Simon A and Hurry J (2005) National evaluation of Youth Justice Board mentoring schemes 2001 to 2004. London: Thomas Coram Research Unit, University of London. Available online at: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/4157305.pdf

8 Tarling R, Davison T and Clarke A (2004) The national evaluation of the Youth Justice Board’ s mentoring projects, London: Youth Justice Board. Available online at: https://scottishmentoringnetwork.co.uk/assets/downloads/resources/youthjusticeboardevaluation.pdf

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