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.
It is the responsibility of the mentoring program to ensure the maximum protection of the participants involved in the program. Effective mentor screening is a crucial factor in determining the success and safety of your program. Research suggests that within group mentoring programs, the “initial screening of potential mentors should follow the best practices developed for one-on-one mentoring programs” (Kuperminc & Thomason, 2014). Consideration should be paid to the uniqueness of a girls group mentoring program. Girls face particular challenges during pre-adolescence and mentors should be equipped to support the girls and comfortable discussing these issues.
Screening your mentors will also directly affect the level of retention in your program. Asking the right questions up front and assessing mentor expectations will allow you to select individuals that will thrive in the group mentoring format and work toward the program goals. If mentors enter the program with realistic expectations there is a reduced chance of early relationship closure.
Comprehensive screening is an essential part of any responsible mentoring program and includes aspects such as:
This may include
In addition to these standard components, it can be helpful to think about the girls you intend to work with and what they would best benefit from in a mentor. If they have certain interests, hobbies, goals or needs, you can use this application to identify and prioritize these relevant details. Some programs have used checklists for mentors to identify hobbies/areas of interest, knowledge of certain populations or career goals. Ensure that the information you are collecting on the application form is relevant to the mentor role.
According to Spencer, “unfulfilled mentor expectations are one important contributing factor to mentoring relationships that terminate early.” During the interview stage, program staff have the opportunity to discover a mentor’s expectations for the mentoring relationship, as well as coach the applicant if they have unrealistic expectations. Programs may see longer matches if they “offer greater assistance with identifying and articulating preferences for and expectations of the mentoring relationship”
- Spencer (2006).
Interviews allow for an opportunity to get to know the applicant better and gather more information to assess their suitability for the program. Develop questions that will allow you to better understand the prospective mentor’s interests and values, history of relationships, motivations for involvement, suitability to engage in a mentoring relationship and ability to manage a group dynamic. This also creates an opportunity to give the applicant some initial information about the program and the program expectations. You can ask direct questions and have discussion across a number of topics. These topics might include:
There are other topics that are relevant to a prospective mentor’s suitability or fit for the role that may carry sensitivities and must be approached accordingly. These topics can be explored through indirect situational or behaviour-type questions. Program staff must be mindful of how questions are framed to avoid questions that are inappropriate, illegal or daunting enough to scare them away from continuing the process. If gathering their views or experience on more sensitive areas, be careful to ask questions generally or in a situational context. For example, you may want to find out their view and use of drugs and alcohol. If exploring this subject, you could first stress the importance of being a good role model and then ask “Do you feel the use of drugs and alcohol is inappropriate when working as a mentor?” A prospective mentor’s relationship history may also be relevant as well as their ability to handle stressful situations, level of sensitivity to rejection or experience managing a crisis.
Security checks should include a Criminal Records Check, a Vulnerable Sector Check, as well as a Child Intervention Check. These checks may have different names, depending on your location, and are usually completed by police or RCMP as well as your local Children’s Services Office. Your organization may already have policies in place around security checks so confirm with your organization that you are following the required process.
Completing reference checks on potential volunteer mentors helps to verify past employment and volunteer positions, as well as ensure suitability of the individual as a mentor. Questions should be open-ended, with additional probing questions used to garner further information that will be helpful in assessing the safety and suitability of the applicant. Applications should include a signed release agreeing that references may be contacted.
By creating a formal agreement for the mentor to sign, you are reiterating the importance of their commitment and ongoing participation in the program. This can include a commitment to:
By creating and implementing a strategy to screen volunteers, programs can manage some of the risk involved in connecting adults and older youth from the community with younger youth or children. It’s important to note that many programs also use the initial mentor training session(s) as an additional step in the screening process for mentors. The training session can be a helpful opportunity to observe a mentor’s interactions with other mentors and to gain a better sense of who they are and what strengths they possess. It also allows you the opportunity to look out for difficulties or issues that may present themselves when the mentor is in a mentoring role.
Be mindful of competing commitments: One of the most common reasons for early relationship termination is that the mentor had too many other commitments. Be sure to inquire about their other commitments, how much time these take and be clear about the level of commitment and hours required for the mentoring role.
Avoid mentors mentoring for the wrong reasons: During the interview process, pay attention to why the mentor is interested in joining the program. If they are focusing on their own material gains—an honorarium, reference letter, volunteer hours, etc.—they may not be the best fit. If they are approaching the relationship seeming to fill a void, this is a warning sign of potential boundary-crossing to come.
Leave your biases at the door: We have often heard that sometimes the best mentors are those you may have initially least suspected. Each mentor brings with them life experiences and histories that will be unique and in some cases complicated. Sometimes this provides the greatest platform for learning and relationship building with the girls in your program. If they have navigated life challenges that the girls are also experiencing, they will bring understanding and advice from lived experience that can be incredibly impactful.
Prioritize diversity/common interests/shared values: We know that shared interests are the best way of matching mentors with girls. If you have already engaged the girls for your program—or are familiar with girls that are interested in joining—try to look for mentors who have shared interests and values. You might also consider the value of diversity within the group and the benefits of exposing girls to mentors of different backgrounds and cultures. Take time to reflect on these issues before you start your mentor recruitment.
Use orientation & training sessions to flag potential challenges: The next step in your program development will be the training of mentors. This presents an opportunity to see the mentor in action and to observe their uptake of the material as well as their interactions with others. Be sure to use this space to dig deeper with any tough topics and realities the mentors will face in the program. It is better to manage expectations from the outset in order to flag potential challenges. Read more about training mentors here.