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Summer Symposium on Mentoring Research

What does it take to build effective mentoring programs serving children and young adults involved with child welfare, juvenile justice, or mental health systems? Leading researchers and practitioners from across the globe converged in Portland this summer to address this question.

Take an in-depth look at the cutting edge of research and innovative practice from the Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring special publication: "It May Be the Missing Piece -- Exploring the Mentoring of Youth in Systems of Care"

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Special Video Feature: Leading Researchers and Foster Youth Tell Us About Mentoring in the Juvenile Justice and Foster Care Systems

These presentations were part of the Summer Symposium on Mentoring Research, a special community event supported by the Portland Children's Levy and the Oregon Community Foundation

Foster Club All Stars share a powerful message about mentoring: "Come and Find Me -- I am Waiting for a Mentor." The Foster Club “All-Star” program provides leadership development to youth who are aging out of the foster care system, and trains them to be national advocates to improve the child welfare system. Find out more about Foster Club at


Thomas Keller, the director of the Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring, discusses the qualities that mentors serving youth in the foster care and juvenile justice systems must have: the ability to try new approaches to old problems, listening skills that allow them to be attuned to what their mentee is really saying, and a deep interest in learning about their mentee’s needs, strengths, and dreams.


Renee Spencer, talks about the many lessons learned from her important research into mentoring relationships. She emphasizes that mentoring relationships can suffer from inconsistencies, misunderstandings, and challenges, just like any other human relationship. Programs should rethink recruitment messages that make mentoring sound "easy" and as if "anyone can do it."


A leader in researching juvenile justice programming, here Jeffrey Butts speaks about how the services we create to support youth in “systems” often wind up missing the mark, or even exacerbating the problem. Done poorly, these services can increase stigma and isolation.


Jarjoura is the founder of the Aftercare for Indiana through Mentoring program (AIM), a reentry program targeting juveniles in the correctional system who will be transitioning back into their communities. He speaks about the need to design very structured programs for youth in juvenile justice and correctional settings, noting that these youth need sustained support, not loosely-defined or quick-fix interventions.

Leslie Leve provides an overview of her work developing one of the most highly regarded and rigorously researched interventions for working with youth in the foster care and juvenile justice systems -- Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care (MTFC). The treatment model incorporates mentoring in a model that also includes parenting groups, skill-building classes, individual therapy, and crisis management.


Laurie Powers, a foremost expert on mentoring youth with disabilities, presents her compelling findings on mentoring youth in foster care with mental health diagnoses as they transition into adulthood. Her landmark research includes the first experimental study of self-determination enhancement with foster youth. She illustrates how tight program design can lead to powerful, focused results.

Heather Taussig discusses her groundbreaking intervention, Fostering Healthy Futures, which is a multi-component program for foster children age 9-11. Her work has demonstrated that short-term mentoring interventions can work for children in foster care, especially if they are designed to help reduce the stigma of maltreatment and to work effectively with the child welfare system itself.

Julia Pryce speaks about the connection between curiosity and good mentoring. She argues that the best mentors are those who are truly curious about their mentees, building on that desire to know more about the youth by learning to recognize subtle verbal and nonverbal cues and building “attunement” with their mentee.


Munson discusses her research on “natural” mentors for youth who have been in the foster-care system, showing how these adults support youth in systems of care through advocacy, emotional engagement and mutuality, and helping provide practical things like financial assistance and transportation to appointments with service providers.

Dr. Ahrens presents her important research on the effective skills and traits of mentors working with foster youth. She explores her findings on natural mentors and discusses traits such as persistence, patience, self-disclosure, flexibility, and confidence as they relate to building trusting relationships.


Tim Cavell, who works with aggressive children, offers up a vision of mentoring as a six-sided box: three sides of relationship conditions (acceptance, containment, leadership) and three of relationship foundations (clear goals, solid structure, and healthy communication). When these six elements come together, we find a “whole” mentoring relationship.