Cross-age youth mentoring
Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
- This strategy can help promote healthy childhood environments. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve this outcome are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
- Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
Supportive relationships between older and younger youth: Cross-age youth peer mentoring entails older youth befriending, supporting, and mentoring younger children in a structured environment. There is some evidence that cross-age mentoring increases social connectedness for mentees.
Facilitated by community organizations: Peer youth mentoring programs are typically organized by schools, community centers, or faith-based organizations. These organizations recruit participants, identify mentors, and facilitate group programming. Activities may include, for example, tutoring sessions, arts and crafts projects, role play around peer pressure situations, or navigating course registration for an upcoming school year.
Youth paired across age gaps: Mentors in cross-age youth mentoring programs are typically high school or college students who choose to volunteer their time. Mentees are typically elementary or middle school students who are recruited from within the sponsoring organization (e.g., students at a school sponsoring the program) or through public outreach.
Providing academic, social, and emotional support: The primary goal of mentor-mentee pairings is relationship development. These relationships then allow mentors to offer support, encouragement, and guidance to mentees on schoolwork, relationships, and personal goals.
Evidence and impacts
Ranked as having the second-highest level of evidence by County Health Rankings and Roadmaps
Multiple studies with rigorous designs demonstrate that there is some evidence for cross-age youth peer mentoring as a strategy to increase social connectedness among mentees.
- This assessment is based on evidence from a 2020 research synthesis.
Best practices in implementation
Use clear and communicative recruitment strategies: Recruiting efforts for both mentors and mentees in peer youth mentoring programs should rely on multiple outreach strategies, appeal to youth audiences, and clearly communicate expectations. Strategies may include distributing program information to teachers or community leaders to solicit referrals, sharing notices in parent communication materials, or giving presentations in settings where youth spend time. Recruitment materials may be developed with input from youth focus groups to ensure they appeal to the target audience, and should include a clear description of the commitment involved in program participation.
Screen prospective mentors: Prospective mentors should be screened to ensure a good fit with the program model. In addition to ensuring potential mentors understand programmatic expectations (e.g., the scheduling commitment), the screening process should assess mentors’ attitude, empathy, and desire to be helpful. This can be accomplished through written applications, references, teacher recommendations, and interviews. For programs that aim to match mentors and mentees across shared experiences or interests, this information should be collected during the application process.
Provide in-depth training for peer mentors: Since mentors are also young people, they may need support beyond what adult mentors require in order to be effective mentors. Training should include discussions of the role of a mentor, tips for how to support others, expectations for program participation, and guidelines on where to seek help for problems they cannot address independently.
Facilitate developmentally appropriate activities: Organizations managing peer mentoring programs should provide some structured activities to facilitate relationship-building. Activities can include academic support (e.g., how to conduct research, keeping a journal together), personal growth (e.g., conflict resolution, peer pressure), or recreation (e.g., sports, field trips). There should be flexibility in the activity structure to ensure that pairs are engaging in positive and constructive activities but also allow mentors and mentees to make decisions about how to spend their time.