Girls Group Mentoring Toolkit

This Girls Group Mentoring Toolkit provides the tools, resources and support to create, implement, deliver and evaluate a quality group mentoring program for girls, ages 9-13, in your community. The Toolkit is intended to be used in a range of communities, and can be adapted to the unique values, needs, strengths and challenges that each community encompasses.

Introduction

Background

Girls-only programming offers a variety of benefits and positive impacts for girls ages 9−13. The following reasons were gathered from the feedback of 14 Girls’ Fund grantees through the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s (2014) common evaluation process from 2009−2012:

  • Girls have different needs and interests
  • All genders behave differently, and girls often prefer a space of their own
  • Girls are more likely to be themselves in front of other girls
  • Girls are more comfortable sharing and opening up in front of other girls
  • Girls are more likely to discuss certain topics with other girls (e.g. sexuality, eating disorders, self-esteem, body image)
  • Girls worry less about their appearance in girls-only environments
  • Girls worry less about being teased/bullied when we create safe spaces for them
  • Girls behave differently when boys are around
  • Being only with girls helps girls to feel strong and special
  • Having female role models shows girls they can be smart and powerful
  • Girls find girls-only groups to be more positive and fun

Why Girls?

Women have made vast strides over the past few decades. Women occupy higher levels of workforce participation and take on more leadership roles than ever before. These accomplishments should be acknowledged, celebrated and utilized in building programming for all girls.

Although women have more opportunities than ever before, many girls still face systemic barriers and oppressive practices that negatively impact their personal growth and development. On a daily basis, girls deal with issues related to their physical and mental health, body image, gender and self-esteem (Iglesias and Cormier, 2002). A large percentage of young Canadian girls also deal with poverty, racism, homophobia, transphobia and sexism on a daily basis. Violence against women and girls also continues to be a serious problem.

Early adolescence is a turning point for girls. It is a time of transition when girls begin to question and form their own individual identities. During this period, some youth may expand their ideas of gender expression. There are high expectations of what a girl should ‘be like.’ At this stage, girls often begin to deal with the gendered roles of adult femininity which can be confusing and restricting for many (Kaplan and Cole, 2003). By engaging these young girls in mentoring, programs can step in at a fundamental time in their development and exploration. Community programming that focuses on the strengths and successes already in the lives of adolescent girls can be a powerful way of supporting and empowering them further. By accepting girls for who they are and how they identify, and seeking to build youth capacity to navigate the challenges and experiences of adolescence, mentoring can support girls at the height of their development.

“Parents and girls reported several reasons why the program should be girls-only, including the following: girls are more comfortable sharing and opening up in an all-girls environment, boys and girls behave differently and boys’ behaviour could be disruptive, and boys and girls have different needs and interests at this age.”

- Canadian Women’s Foundation (2014)

Girls-only programming allows girls a safe space to explore their identities, create positive relationships with others and focus on their unique strengths and capabilities. It provides a nurturing environment for girls to engage with older female role models, creating immense potential for growth, acceptance and support. Girls-only spaces can create space for discussion that encourages girls to question stereotypes, talk about bullying and speak up against oppression with their peers. This creates an atmosphere where girls can build the skills and confidence needed to challenge oppression for themselves and others.


Why Group Mentoring?

The American Psychological Association (APA) (2014) describes girls’ experiences in early adolescence:

“Early adolescence appears to be especially stressful on adolescent girls' friendships and peer relations, signified by a sharp increase in indirect relational aggression. More typical of girls and more distressful to girls than to boys, relational aggression, characterized by such behaviors as spreading rumors or threatening withdrawal of affiliation, appears to emerge as girls' attempt to negotiate current power relations and affirm or resist conventional constructions of femininity … Friendships can be a source of both knowledge and strength for adolescent girls. They can also be a source of struggle, hurt, and confusion, particularly as girls move into adolescence and begin to negotiate dominant cultural views of sexual relationships, femininity, and appearance. Directly engaging adolescent girls in conversations about such issues and encouraging them to explore together how current power relations are played out in the context of their relationships with other girls and women can provide support as well as opportunities to resist social separations.”

“It is possible that mentoring groups, over the long term, allow for the establishment of relationships that can open possibilities for new expectations, empathy, tolerance for differences, and mutual caring that may not have previously existed.”

- Leadbeater & Way (2007)

Group mentoring is an approach that affords young adolescent girls the opportunity to, as the APA suggests, engage in conversations about issues they’re facing in the context of both peer and adult supportive relationships. Group mentoring occurs when one or more mentors is matched with two or more mentees. Group mentoring sizes and match ratios vary, depending on the program goals, type of mentor and available resources.

All models of mentoring have benefits for children, youth and communities. Group mentoring in particular contributes to improvements in both horizontal (peer) and vertical (adult or someone more experienced) relationship development:

“Vertical relationships offer protection, security, and opportunities for the development of basic social skills. Horizontal relationships form the contexts in which social skills are practiced and elaborated. Though the nature of these relationships evolves with development, both remain important across developmental transitions from early childhood through adolescence.”

Kuperminc & Thomason (2014)

It has been theorized that group-based mentorship practices are more accessible to marginalized youth than traditional one-on-one mentoring partnerships (Herrera et al., 2002). Individuals who may not feel comfortable participating in one-on-one mentoring may be more likely to do so in the context of a group, where they might still benefit from having a supportive mentor and supportive peers. Girls-only group mentorship can provide a positive space where resources can be shared and discussed. There is strong evidence that suggests that girls, specifically as they enter adolescence, benefit from more intimate, psychosocial relationships (Denner & Griffin, 2003). Girls group mentoring can also be particularly valuable for organizations with limited resources or in communities with limited numbers of mentors. By matching the girls in groups, the program can include more girls and have potential for greater impact.

“The support that the mentees and mentors gave to each other was crucial to help them through some very difficult problems. These girls showed me the necessity of persistence and reinforced my belief never to judge on first impressions. It was a deeply rewarding experience for me to witness the formation of such a strong, positive peer support group.”

- Boys & Girls Club of London, Just for Girls Mentorship Project

What is the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s approach to Girls Group Mentoring?

Since 2006, the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s Girls’ Fund has supported dynamic programs for girls between the critical ages of 9 and 13 that engage their body, mind and spirit. Building on the Girls’ Fund and creating greater opportunities for girls, the Nancy Baron Mentorship for Girls Program was launched with generous funding from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation. Mentoring is widely recognized as a highly effective way to promote leadership, increase exposure to diverse perspectives and experience, and build confidence through relationship building.

Commencing in 2012, the Foundation helped organizations provide group mentoring for more than 1400 girls in communities across Canada through 4 year grants. The Nancy Baron Mentorship for Girls Program combines unique elements to support group mentoring of girls within diverse communities. The program includes the following features:

  • Mentorship participants are connected to a small peer group, then matched with a mentor or mentors, allowing the girls to form relationships with and learn from both their mentors and their peers. 
  • Program format is customized by each organization and based on the particular needs and assets of the community it serves. For example, some programs match high school age mentors to build leadership in teenage girls. Other programs pair elders or older mentors with youth to strengthen understanding and respect between generations.
  • Program staff take on the critical role of running the program, recruiting and supporting mentors and girls, as well as overseeing the mentoring relationships to ensure they have a safe, effective and supportive impact. Volunteers take on the role of mentors.
  • Every program uses a comprehensive, skills-based, girl-centred approach.
  • Priority is given to the most disadvantaged girls, and opportunities for Indigenous girls and girls in Northern communities is a high priority.

Peer learning for service providers is an integral part of the program: half of the programs started their group mentoring in the first year of their four-year funding, while the other half used the learning from the first group to launch their mentorship programs in the third year of the funding cycle. Canadian Women’s Foundation also prioritizes knowledge sharing. Organizations across the country have the ongoing opportunity to join in the discussion and learn about gender-based group mentoring through online learning and in-person trainings.

Through careful evaluation, there is greater understanding of how to develop and deliver group mentoring for girls between the ages of 9 and 13. It provides a comprehensive offering of best practices, learning opportunities and resources to help impact and improve services for girls across the country. 

Girls group mentoring programs funded by Canadian Womens Foundation for 20122016 includes:

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Saint John
Boys & Girls Club of Hamilton
Boys and Girls Club of London
Boys & Girls Club of South Coast BC
Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association (CIWA)
Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta
Ka Ni Kanichihk
North York Community House
Sturgeon Lake First Nation
Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office
Tsleil-Waututh First Nation
Wahbung Abinoonjiiag Inc.
Y des Femmes de Montréal
YWCA Cambridge
YWCA Muskoka
YWCA Toronto
YWCA Yellowknife

Canadian Women’s Foundation also worked closely with five community organizations to pilot this toolkit. These organizations partnered with Canadian Women’s Foundation to test the toolkit over a six-month period and actively participated in an ongoing reflection and evaluation process. The focus of the pilot was to evaluate the toolkit’s value and functionality, and to engage in a collaborative and continuous learning and improvement process. Through these learnings, we have been able to evolve the content of the toolkit to better meet the needs of the organizations looking to develop a girls group mentoring program.

Girls group mentoring pilot programs funded by Canadian Womens Foundation for 2014
2015 included:

Community Action Resource Centre
Cornerstone Family & Youth Inc.
Inuvik Youth Centre
Sarnia-Lambton Rebound
YWCA Lethbridge

Key Take-Aways

Girls in Canada will benefit greatly from connections with a mentor (or mentors) and peers in a safe and empowering environment. This section offered information to help you better:

  • Understand the impact a mentor/mentoring program can have on a girl
  • Familiarize yourself with the various components of this toolkit
  • Strengthen your understanding of the challenges faced by girls
  • Recognize how group mentoring can be an effective tool for girls’ empowerment
  • Familiarize yourself with Canadian Women’s Foundation’s approach to girls group mentoring across Canada


Contact: mentoringgirls(at)canadianwomen.org