Closing the Mentoring Gap
MENTOR believes that the guidance of an adult mentor can help each child discover and unlock his or her full potential. Research demonstrates that youth who participate in mentoring relationships experience a multitude of positive benefits.
By all estimates, an astounding 18 million young people – nearly half the population of young people between 10 and 18 years of age – live in situations that put them at risk of not living up to their potential. Without immediate guidance and support by caring adults, they could make choices that undermine their futures, and, ultimately, the economic and social well-being of our nation.
Research conducted by MENTOR, to include U.S. Census figures on youth, identify 3 million young people who are in quality formal mentoring relationships, leaving 15 million youth without a mentor. Finding mentors for 15 million children is a tremendous challenge, but one that we are working to close. By leveraging resources, we have been able to help communities tackle the challenges that hinder efforts to expand quality mentoring. With each mentoring initiative, collaboration and partner, we are making steady gains to closing the mentoring gap.
A growing body of research confirms what we instinctively know to be true – that a caring adult can make a big difference in a child's future. Mentors serve as role models, advocates, friends, and advisors. Numerous studies document that mentors help young people augment social skills and emotional well-being, improve cognitive skills, and plan for the future. High-quality mentoring also results in better attendance at school, lowers dropout rates, and decreases involvement with drugs and violent behavior. In short, quality mentoring works.
Defining the Mentoring Gap
MENTOR is often asked how we arrived at the figure of 15 million young people who need mentors and who comprise what we call our nation's "mentoring gap." In the US today, 18 million young people – nearly half the youth population – want or need mentors to help them reach their full potential, and nearly 44 million adults say they are willing to become mentors. Yet, due to capacity limitations, only 3 million youngsters are in formal mentoring relationships. This leaves nearly 15 million American young people still in need of mentors; these young people comprise the nation's mentoring gap."
To arrive at that figure, we used a formula that takes into consideration Census data, certain youth risk factors and the number of youth already in formal mentoring relationships.
We began with the 2002 US Census, which told us that the United States has 35.2 million young people between the ages of 10 and 18. And while we believe that all youth can benefit from having a caring adult mentor, we also know that some young people, due to life circumstances, could benefit most from a quality mentoring relationship.
Therefore, to determine the number of young people who most need mentors, we turned to youth expert and researcher Joy Dryfoos. Author of the book, Adolescence at Risk, Dryfoos identified a number of factors that put youth especially at risk of not becoming successful adults. Those factors include performing poorly in school and dropping out; engaging in substance abuse, having sex at an early age and engaging in delinquent behavior. Dryfoos then categorized youth by risk status:
- Very high risk (10 percent of young people) – young people with multiple problem behaviors who commit serious offenses, drop out of school; use heavy drugs and have sex without contraception, etc.
- High risk (15 percent) – youth who participate in two or three problem behaviors but at a slightly lower frequency and with less deleterious consequences;
- Moderate risk (25 percent) – youth who tend to experiment in committing minor delinquent offenses, using substances occasionally but not hard drugs, have sexual intercourse with contraception, etc.; and
- Low risk (50 percent) – young people who do not commit any serious delinquent acts, do not abuse substances and are not yet sexually active.
MENTOR determined that youth in the very high-risk category need multiple interventions and that mentoring would not be nearly as effective for them as it would be for youth in the other risk categories. Therefore, MENTOR focuses its efforts on recruiting mentors for those who could most benefit: young people in the high and moderate risk categories, as well as 10 percent of youth considered low risk – a total of 18 million youth, or 50 percent of all young people in the U.S.
Finally, using information gleaned from our poll, Mentoring in America 2005: A Snapshot of the Current State of Mentoring, we found that 3 million youth currently are in quality formal mentoring relationships. By subtracting that 3 million from the number of youth identified as needing mentors, we found the nation's mentoring gap to be 15 million young people.