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What Do Vulnerable Young People Think of a Vocational Peer Mentoring Program?

A mentor helping a young man with his work.

Perspectives of Young Emerging Adults With Serious Mental Health Conditions on Vocational Peer Mentors” (abstract). Vanessa V. Klodnick, Kathryn Sabella, Christopher J. Brenner, Izabela M. Krzos, Marsha L. Ellison, Susan M. Kaiser, Maryann Davis, and Marc A. Fagan. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, Vol. 23, No. 4 (2015).

What it’s about: Klodnick et al. wanted to explore the feasibility of adding vocational peer mentors to an evidence-based supported employment model and delivering this adapted intervention to young emerging adults with serious mental health conditions. The researchers used the Individual Placement and Support model of supported employment to match peer mentors with 35 young people. The young people in the study were between 17 and 20 years old, and were receiving residential and psychiatric care at the Thresholds Young Adult Program (YAP) in Chicago. After 12 months, 21 young people who worked with mentors each completed an open-ended satisfaction survey and the Working Alliance Inventory–Short Form (WAI-S).

Why read it: Klodnick et al. cite recent research showing that young people with serious mental health conditions in residential care settings lack vocational role models. Therefore, they propose that combining vocational services with peer mentors is a promising adaptation of evidence-based practices from the adult mental health system for emerging adults with serious mental health conditions. In addition, the authors note that little is yet known about the value of peer support generally in child mental health systems, because it is a new approach. This study sought to help fill that knowledge gap, and to inform future research.

Biggest takeaways from the research: The study participants reported the experiences described below.

Benefits of peer mentoring. Young people noted that they learned about the job search process and got tips such as how to dress for a job interview.

  • Sixteen young people reported that they benefited from the peer mentoring interactions.
  • Ten young people reported that the peer mentors helped them develop and achieve their vocational goals.

Valued attributes of peer mentors. In their open-ended responses, young people emphasized the need for peer mentors to be strong, positive, and trustworthy; to have had similar life experiences; to have a capacity to empathize; and to have “overcome” personal struggles.

  • Sixteen young people believed that peer mentors should have work or school experience.
  • Fourteen young people believed that peer mentors should be YAP graduates.

Overall peer mentoring experience. The mentees appreciated opportunities to talk and bond with their peer mentors. They also appreciated that peer mentors provided new insights into a particular vocational process or direct advice on how to do something to attain vocational goals.

  • Thirteen mentees had positive responses about their peer mentor experiences and believed that they benefited from peer mentoring.
  • Three felt that the visits were either too short or not frequent enough.
  • Two did not like morning appointments with their peer mentor.
  • Two felt that their conversations with their peer mentor were redundant.

Among the study limitations noted by Klodnick’s research team are the small number of participants and the lack of a comparison group. The researchers suggest that future studies incorporate mentor perspectives and methods to prevent attrition due to participants aging out of child system services. Other suggestions include making meeting times and locations flexible to accommodate both peer mentors and mentees, who are often juggling school, employment, and other commitments. 

Additional references: Look for more articles about peer mentors, vocational skills, and mental health in our digital library.

Read how mentors who share similar experiences can help young people recovering from exploitation.

Learn how staff with mentor roles enhance housing programs for transition age youth.

Discover ways that mentors can work with young people over meals.

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