Address to the Inaugual Youth Mentoring Conference
Hon Steve Maharey
23 August, 2000
Thank-you for inviting me to speak at this, the Inaugural Youth Mentoring Conference. It is a pleasure to join you today.
Many of you have dedicated your time and energy to setting up and organising valuable services to help New Zealand's children and young people fulfil their potential. For this I applaud you.
WHAT IS MENTORING?
In some ways it is a little incongruous to be speaking at the first conference on youth mentoring in New Zealand given that mentoring itself is as old as time.
Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are the first teachers and mentors of the young. In earlier times extended family living provided a wealth of mentoring support to children. The breadth of the social networks ensured that children were exposed to a range of skilled and competent adults with different attributes and skills to impart.
But mentoring responsibilities also extend well beyond ties of blood. Hillary Clinton has often quoted the African proverb that: 'it takes a village to raise a child'
This stresses the mutual responsibility of adults to guide, protect and mentor the young.
Of course, for better or worse, most of us do not live in social structures akin to the traditional village society. With the advent of the 'global village' we have formalised and professionalised some of these mentoring relationships. After all what is teaching if not mentoring? And is a Police youth specialist not a contemporary rendition of the village guardian and mentor of the young?
But of course there are some constants. Religious beliefs and philosophies, whether first nation, Muslim, Jewish, or Christian have provided moral and spiritual guidance, in fact a framework for living for old and young alike. While some of these institutions have been in decline, the start of the 21st century has seen a resurgence in church attendance by the young, often in the more charismatic faiths.
So mentoring is not a new or unfamiliar concept. Many people here will have experienced a mentoring relationship, either through their studies, in their jobs or within their familial or friendship relationships. Many of these relationships are perhaps unplanned and unstructured but they still achieve the goals.
But changes to family structure with more single parent families, increasing awareness of family violence, and a diminution of extended family and informal community support has seen a need for the evolution of structured and planned mentoring relationships.
Modern or formalised mentoring has been seen as a way of achieving specific goals and the evaluation of those mentoring relationships is a more recent advance.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in America defines mentoring as
"A one to one relationship between a pair of unrelated individuals, one an adult aged 21 or older (mentor) and the other a juvenile (mentee) which takes place on a regular basis over an extended period of time. It is usually characterised by a "special bond of mutual commitment" and "an emotional character of respect, loyalty and identification. "
The actual form of Mentoring, as a specific and service oriented intervention in a child's life has become more defined. Internationally, best practice principles have been identified, benchmarks for effective programmes have been set and structures and processes are implemented to provide a framework for the Mentoring programme.
BEST PRACTICE AND MENTORING
Sound ethical and best practice principles are critical in any mentoring programme.
In fact any programme that places our children and young people in the care of strangers must ensure the very highest standards.
And that includes carefully checking who is working with our young people.
Lets not pussyfoot around the issue - paedophiles have successfully infiltrated a number of mentoring type agencies in the past and will try to do so in the future. Scouting type groups both here and overseas have been left reeling, having belatedly realised that not everyone seeks to be involved for the right reasons.
I applaud the fact that you have put the issue on the conference agenda and I look forward to seeing the results of your work on Best Practice and National Standards.
Internationally, a number of best practice principles have been identified that, if present, will greatly contribute to the success of the mentoring programme and the mentoring relationships. Some examples of the practices of effective mentors are:
Having mentors that:
- Maintain a steady presence in a youth's life;
- Respect the youth's viewpoint;
- Pay attention to kid's need for "fun";
- Get to know their mentee's families, but don't become too involved with them; and
- Seek and use the help and advice of programme staff.
Some programme practices that seem to develop and enhance the mentoring relationship are:
- That mentors are carefully screened and assessed;
- That the children and mentors are matched according to their similar interests;
- Providing training of at least six hours for Mentors prior to the mentoring relationship beginning;
- Ensuring that the mentor has contact, at least monthly, with the Programme Provider/Supervisor when the mentoring relationship has begun;
- Encouraging the mentors to engage the children in both social and academic activities; and
- Focusing more training and support on those mentors who are working with older youth.
This Conference provides an ideal opportunity to share international and local experiences and to begin to develop a clearer understanding of those key mentoring principles that may be uniquely Kiwi.
This is your chance to draw on the best of local and overseas experience to design programmes that best meet the needs of children and young people here in New Zealand.
INTERNATIONAL MENTORING PROGRAMMES: SOME OUTCOMES
It is also to our benefit that mentoring programmes have been evaluated and we are learning more about the outcomes that can be achieved.
I quote here from an April 2000 report prepared by the Public/Private Ventures group- "Recent research has highlighted the positive effects of mentoring, the most significant and well-documented of which are improvements in youth's grades, school attendance and family relationships, and the prevention of drug and alcohol initiation. " This statement was made as a result of a survey of 722 mentoring programmes across America.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention evaluation Report to Congress in 1998 on the Juvenile Mentoring Program (JUMP) reported that overall both the mentors and the children positively identified the achievements that had been made through the mentoring relationship. Although, in some areas the mentors and the children did have different perceptions about the benefits of the relationship. For example, their preliminary data indicated that some mentors perceived different gender and ethnicity matches as being less beneficial to the children. The children's perceptions of the benefits achieved did not differ significantly, regardless of gender or ethnicity matching . How we in New Zealand would regard different gender and ethnicity matches in the mentoring relationship is going to be an important issue for your consideration. Particular issues such as the importance of te reo and Maori tikanga will necessarily form part of your decision making.
Benefits have been found in a variety of mentoring relationships. These relationship types and their benefits are:
1. One on One Mentoring
- Were less likely to initiate drug and alcohol use
- Were less likely to hit someone
- Skipped fewer days of school
- Felt more competent about their ability to do well in school
- Received slightly higher school grades
- Reported more positive relationships with friends and parents.
2. One on One Mentoring embedded in a broader academically oriented programme
- Had improved academic performance
- Were more likely to participate in college preparatory activities
- Were more likely to attend college immediately after high school graduation
- Remained longer in college.
3. One on One Mentoring embedded in a substance abuse prevention programme
- Had better attitudes toward school and the future
- Used substances less frequently
- Had better school attendance.
4. Group Mentoring programmes
- Had better attitudes toward school, their families and communities
- Had better school attendance .
So it does seem that while there are common benefits, there are also some specific rewards available to carefully designed mentoring programmes.
As many of you will know, I have three portfolio areas: Social Services and Employment, Tertiary Education, and the Community / Voluntary Sector, all of which are relevant to the mentoring outcomes I have just listed.
If we are to enjoy a strong and healthy society we must raise generations of children and young people who can see the intrinsic value in education and who are caring members of their community. Youth mentoring appears to offer one way of strengthening both these factors.
MENTORING IN NEW ZEALAND
Youth mentoring has also been seen as a effective measure to prevent youth offending. The Crime Prevention Unit funded six pilot mentoring programmes around New Zealand. The overall objectives were to:
- Develop sustainable positive relationships between youth at risk and adult role models;
- Develop positive interests, skills and pro-social behaviour patterns among youth at risk;
- Enhance school attendance and academic performance of youth at risk; and
- Facilitate community action to support youth and prevent youth offending.
While these were the overall goals of the Project, I understand that there was enough flexibility to enable each of the six pilot sites to reflect the needs of the unique communities in which they operated. This is important, as all communities are different and "one size does not fit all."
These goals directly target some of those factors that have been identified in the literature as having a high correlation with youth offending. Poor school attendance, poor academic achievement, and mixing with anti-social peers are some of the factors that exist in the backgrounds of most serious and recidivist youth offenders. Additionally many of these young people have poor relationships with adults and live in communities that cannot or will not offer them the support and nurture they need to succeed.
The Demonstration Project evaluation report correctly identifies that it is impossible to identify those children and young people who will begin to commit offences or will suffer from poor life outcomes. However, the report does determine that many, if not all of the programmes evaluated, achieved significant improvements to the lives of the children and young people who were able to remain in a long-term relationship with a suitably matched mentor. This means that the "at risk" nature of the child's situation is eased, which in turn means that a greater level of wellbeing is achieved.
I guess the only note of caution that I would add here, and I'm sure you are all aware of it, is that mentoring relationships that break off prematurely or in an unplanned way can cause harm to children and young people . I would urge all of you to take the required steps to ensure that the potential for harm is minimised.
MENTORING AND SOCIAL SERVICES
Some of the benefits of mentoring that I see are:
- Mentoring increases the likelihood that a child's wellbeing will improve and
- Mentoring increases the likelihood that children and young people will develop and be able to actively contribute to society.
Take the situation of Bronwyn, a ten-year-old Pakeha girl who lives with her mother, younger sister and stepfather . Bronwyn was described as depressed, having low self-esteem and, at times, being suicidal and at risk of self-harming. However, at times she also appeared "bright and breezy" and was described as having a Jeckyl and Hyde personality.
The relationship between Bronwyn's mother and father had been violent, and Bronwyn like so many children in conflict-riven homes had witnessed this violence. It was thought that Bronwyn might be feeling that her father had rejected her as he did not often visit or phone, despite promising to do so.
Domestic violence has a profound effect on children. Studies show that children from families where domestic violence is prevalent are likely to become involved with partners who are also violent or are, at least, very controlling .
With an early history of being depressed and suicidal Bronwyn was at risk of actually self-harming and then perhaps attempting or committing suicide. New Zealand's youth suicide statistics are shockingly high, particularly when compared with international statistics , particularly for a country that always prided itself as a great place to grow up.
Bronwyn was at risk of her negative behaviours becoming more entrenched and escalating to the point where the "bright and breezy" girl, who had lots of positive things about her and in her life, became lost.
Not only was Bronwyn at risk of the issues that I've mentioned, she was also at risk of becoming out of her mother's control, and, perhaps, "falling in with the wrong crowd", committing offences or becoming pregnant at a young age.
I'm sure that many of you will be all too familiar with children in this sort of situation. In fact it may not even seem that extreme, and we might think- "it's not so bad. This child will probably be O.K"
However, someone in Bronwyn's life was perceptive enough to see what might happen and referred her to the mentoring programme. By all accounts, Bronwyn is doing very well now. Bronwyn's mentor, Agnes, was caring enough to share her time and energy. Agnes made a commitment to Bronwyn, and honoured it. This showed Bronwyn that there are adults who make promises and keep them.
The Mentoring Project and Agnes, whether she knows it or not, have increased Bronwyn's resilience. There is a burgeoning volume of literature about the importance of building up a child's resilience. Some studies, looking at out of home placements, have indicated that building up resilience may be as important as planning for permanency. Some studies have shown that resilience can be built up and achieved by:
- Enhancing self-esteem,
- Improving academic achievement,
- Promoting social skills and
- Strengthening families and social supports.
It seems to me that mentoring goals address most, if not all, of these issues. As a result, a number of negative outcomes may be avoided.
It has been reported that the relationship between Bronwyn and her mother has improved, as has Bronwyn's participation at school. Bronwyn's self-esteem has increased and she seems much happier.
The mentoring service that was implemented prevented Bronwyn's negative behaviours, thoughts and emotions from becoming entrenched or escalating. It prevented one more child from being referred to a state-run agency. Now perhaps we can say with greater certainty- "it's not so bad, this child is doing O.K!"
think case examples like this powerfully demonstrate how mentoring can be a complementary service to statutory social work where, despite the best will in the world, Social Workers will never be able to provide the level of one to one contact a mentor can.
In conclusion, I am pleased to have been given the opportunity to speak to you all today at this Conference. I acknowledge the hard work and thought that has gone into developing and implementing the mentoring programmes that you, here today, are representing. I commend your efforts and acknowledge the need for Government and communities to work together to improve the lives of the children and young people who are our future.