Nate Baum is Manager of Training and Technical Assistance at Mass Mentoring Partnership.
This summer, I had the honor to be among 25 attendees to participate in the 2015 Summer Institute on Mentoring at Portland State University. The Summer Institute is a week long seminar that convenes researchers, practitioners and other professionals in the world of youth mentoring to engage in a series of presentations, discussions and knowledge sharing around a particular theme. This year's theme was match support.
One of the highlights of this year's Institute was a presentation on the importance of match closure. The presentation summarized a couple of very compelling studies by Dr. Renee Spencer and her team at Boston University. Dr. Spencer and her team conducted in-depth interviews with caregivers, former mentees, and former mentors that had gone through an early ending in a Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program. She found a number of factors that contributed to these early endings. These included unmet expectations or a feeling of being overwhelmed on the part of a mentor and an inability to bridge cultural differences among others (Spencer, 2015). Here’s a quote from a former mentor highlighting their reasoning for leaving the relationship early:
“Obviously, when you volunteer, you're not expecting the world back...but you want something. You at least want to leave with a feeling...a good feeling.”
Dr. Spencer shared a range of reactions from caregivers who had gone through an early termination in a mentoring relationship. Many felt let down by the mentoring program and the mentor. They expressed anger and frustration in hoping to find a caring adult for their young person, and instead finding someone else that would let down their child by not following through on their commitment to be there (Spencer, 2015).
“I can just see the...resignation. He has just resigned himself to ‘well here it goes again, this is just something else that I got screwed on’ and...It's almost like he's resigned himself to the fact that nothing is ever gonna work for him, you know. And this hurts him. This really hurt him. And he really...liked this guy.” (A parent)
The stories Dr. Spencer shared helped bring to life what we know- a bad ending can be very harmful for a young person and their family. Here’s a quote from one former mentee who had gone through a premature ending:
“I don't think he likes me no more...because he left without saying, he just left without calling.”
Ensuring that we do no harm to the young people and family who participate in our programming is at the foundation of our work. It's therefore crucial we work with prospective mentors from the beginning to envision and prepare for a positive and healthy ending.
Dr. Spencer summed up her finding by noting that matches will likely not engage in a positive closure process on their own (Spencer, 2015). As the study's name entails, saying goodbye is hard to do and mentors are likely to avoid this process if they are not supported. This could leave the mentee feeling sad and confused and less willing to take the risk to connect with other caring adults in the future. It is therefore vital that we as professionals support our youth and caring adults in taking that important step of saying goodbye.
If you're a youth-serving program in Massachusetts that would like to learn more about ensuring a healthy closure process for your youth and volunteers, please contact Nate Baum or Janeen Smith, managers of training and technical assistance, at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
(2015, July 24). Breaking Up is Hard to Do: But Programs can Help! Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring. Lecture conducted from Portland State University.