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Mentoring in the Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Systems

The 2011 Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring brought mentoring researchers and practitioners from around the world focusing on mentoring of youth involved with child welfare, juvenile justice or mental health systems.

>>Download 2011 Publication


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.



2011 Research Fellows

Thomas Keller, Ph.D., Director, Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring

The Duncan and Cindy Campbell Professor for Children, Youth, and Families with an Emphasis on Mentoring in the School of Social Work at Portland State University. He is also Director of the PSU Center for Interdisciplinary Mentoring Research. Professor Keller studies the development and influence of mentoring relationships in school and community settings and the role of parent involvement in mentoring interventions. Prior to earning his Ph.D., he worked for several years with a Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliate in Seattle as a caseworker, supervisor, and program director.


Timothy Cavell, Ph.D.

Professor of Psychology and Director of Clinical Training at University of Arkansas. Professor Cavell’s research focuses on the mentoring of aggressive children at risk for later delinquency and substance abuse. He and colleagues have conducted two major NIDA-funded studies on the PrimeTime prevention-focused mentoring intervention. In addition to numerous academic articles and chapters, Professor Cavell is the author of Working with the parents of aggressive children: A practitioner’s guide, published by the American Psychological Association.

Sarah Geenen, Ph.D.

Research Professor in the Regional Research Institute for Human Services at Portland State University. Professor Geenen conducts research on programs designed to enhance the self-determination of youth in foster care and youth with disabilities. She currently is conducting two major federally-funded randomized controlled trials on the effects of the My Life intervention for youth exiting the child welfare system and for youth in both foster care and special education. In the My Life program, youth have individual relationships with adult coaches and peer mentors (former foster youth) who support the development of self-determination.


Roger Jarjoura, Ph.D.

Associate Professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Professor Jarjoura, a criminologist, is the founder and executive director of the Aftercare for the Incarcerated through Mentoring (AIM) program for youth making the transition from corrections back to the community. AIM includes a skills training component prior to release and mentoring by a college student and community volunteer after release. Professor Jarjoura is a noted speaker and consultant for programs sponsored by OJJDP.


Michelle Munson, Ph.D.

Associate Professor in the Silver School of Social Work at New York University. Professor Munson has expertise on youth aging out of the child welfare system and has published numerous articles from a major study of youth leaving care. Her NIH-funded research has investigated the characteristics of natural mentoring relationships of foster youth as well as how these mentoring experiences are associated with youth well-being. Professor Munson previously managed a mentoring program for vulnerable youth in low income neighborhoods.


Julia Pryce, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at Loyola University Chicago. Professor Pryce’s research has examined the relationship experiences of youth aging out of foster care, the nature of relationships in school-based mentoring programs, and the implementation of health-focused mentoring for early adolescent females in a Big Brothers Big Sisters program and high risk adolescents in low income urban neighborhoods. She also has participated in the development and evaluation of the OJJDP-funded Economic Mentoring Program in Chicago that promotes education, skill development, and economic opportunity for system-involved youth.


Heather Taussig, Ph.D.

Associate Professor in the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect within the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Professor Taussig is Director of the NIMH-funded Fostering Healthy Futures program, a multi-county efficacy trial of a novel intervention for preadolescent youth who have been maltreated and placed in out-of-home care. The intervention consists of weekly therapeutic skills groups and one-on-one mentoring provided over a 9-month period. Dr. Taussig has worked clinically with maltreated children in foster care for over 15 years and has conducted research on risk and protective factors, child welfare outcomes, and policy issues for this population.


2011 Guest Speakers

Kym Ahrens, MD, MPH

Assistant Professor in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Seattle Children's Hospital and the University of Washington School of Medicine. Dr. Ahrens’ research evaluates the influence of adult mentors on the adult outcomes of youth in foster care and youth with learning disabilities. She has published both qualitative and quantitative studies focusing on the role of natural mentoring relationships for these populations.


Jeffrey Butts, Ph.D.

Director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. He conducts research and evaluation projects designed to improve policies and programs for youth involved with the juvenile justice system. His work has addressed a range of topics, including teen drug courts, gang control, violence prevention, disproportional sentencing, justice reform, and mentoring. Dr. Butts was previously a Research Fellow at Chapin Hall Center for Children and Director of the Program on Youth Justice for the Urban Institute.


Leslie Leve, Ph.D.

Senior Scientist and Science Director for the Oregon Social Learning Center. She also is a Senior Scientist with the Center for Research to Practice in Eugene, OR. Dr. Leve has conducted numerous research projects aimed at understanding and preventing behavioral adjustment difficulties among youth involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. She has extensive experience with comprehensive preventive intervention approaches and has published several articles on the effectiveness of Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care.


Laurie Powers, Ph.D.  

Associate Dean for Research in the School of Social Work and Director of the Regional Research Institute for Human Services at Portland State University. Professor Powers conducts research on programs designed to enhance the self-determination of youth in foster care and youth with disabilities, including two major federally-funded randomized trials on the effects of the My Life intervention for youth exiting the child welfare system and for youth in both foster care and special education. In the My Life program, youth have individual relationships with adult coaches and peer mentors (former foster youth) who support the development of self-determination.

Renee Spencer, Ed.D.

Associate Professor in the Boston University School of Social Work. Professor Spencer has published highly influential qualitative studies on the nature and course of successful and unsuccessful mentoring relationships. She also has examined how the mentoring experience differs for male and female youth. As a recipient of a prestigious W.T. Grant Foundation Scholar Award, she has undertaken a major longitudinal investigation designed to understand the mentoring process. Professor Spencer recently has co-authored several articles on mentoring youth with experience in foster care.