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 crucial to recognize that every mentoring group will likely face some level of challenge or conflict over the course of the relationship development process. As outlined in the above sections on relationship development theory, conflict is normal and to be expected and can be constructive in facilitating honest, open connections between the girls and their mentors. The following list provides suggestions from programs in the field for some of the common issues you might come face-to-face with in your program.
Even when intentional efforts are made to match the girls carefully, interpersonal clashes between girls can take place and must be managed to promote healthy relationships and ensure each girl feels safe and positively connected to the group. When conflict does arise in the group, it can be used as an opportunity to learn and practice conflict resolution in a healthy way, rather than lashing out, name-calling, ignoring or other unhealthy patterns that can often develop.
Some suggestions from the field for managing a matched group that isn’t working:
Even when you have taken time to screen and match mentors and girls, sometimes the relationships will face roadblocks in developing positively. There are basic interventions that can be explored and taken as first steps. When this is not effective, you should consider redistributing or re-matching the girls if necessary. Identifying whether the challenges are resting with a single mentee or mentor will be helpful in developing the most effective course of action.
The first warning sign that a matched group isn’t working is recurring participant conflict followed by program withdrawal. Some other common signs include breaking group cohesion, hindering relationships, excessive group conflict, behaviours that did not occur before, self-sabotaging of the group, sabotaging the group for others, mentors or mentees quitting the group and mentors or mentees not showing up. Remember that if the group is in a state of conflict and lacks connectivity, participants will not feel attached to the group. In rare cases, some girls may actually be better suited to a one-on-one mentoring model.
If early efforts are not resolving the conflict or lack of connection within a matched group, you may consider reassigning the girls and mentor. This can be difficult since you don’t want to disrupt other successfully matched groups. If the challenges seem to rest mostly with the mentor, consider assigning them a general role in the program—sometimes an individual might not be the right fit for the mentor role. If the dynamic among the girls is not working, consider strategically distributing them among the other groups. Reassigning a group shouldn’t be a reaction; it should be planned so mentees and mentors do not feel that it was a failure or someone’s “fault.” Having a fun activity planned to initiate the new groups will help with this. Consider an outing, a special meal or a get-to-know-you activity.
Co-mentoring presents a variety of benefits to a girls group mentoring program. From a staff perspective, there are many gains in coverage, scheduling and succession planning. From the girls’ perspective, it offers two supportive mentors to look up to and build relationships with. When matching two mentors to take on this collaborative process, however, sometimes conflict can arise. It is first important to try to diffuse and manage the conflict. The staff person should address the issues in a private conversation and a plan should be collectively agreed upon between all three individuals. This could include dividing up the role’s responsibilities or developing a list of principles to guide their collaboration moving forward, which could function like group rules. Staff should have check-in meetings pre-scheduled to monitor their progress. If there is a fundamental issue with their leadership styles or personalities that cannot be rectified, consider reassigning one of them to a different role within the program.
“Be consistent. Young people need boundaries to feel safe and understand social expectations. If you are not consistent, it can be confusing and uncomfortable”
Maintaining boundaries within the girls group mentoring program is critical for supporting the healthy and positive development of relationships. At times a girl may develop an unhealthy attachment to a member of the program whether it be a mentor, staff person or another mentee.
First identify that the mentee is safe and clarify that the attachment is not linked to an external issue or crisis that needs to be addressed. Staff should have a private conversation with the girl to ensure her life circumstances are not presenting risks. In the absence of external issues, instead of explicitly reprimanding the girl, try to redirect her involvement in the program in different ways.
If the girl is attached to a staff person, for example, create opportunities for her to do special activities of interest within her matched group to entice her engagement elsewhere. You may consider setting up a separate session with her mentor to forge a stronger connection. If the attachment to the mentor is disruptive to the other girls in the group, try arranging activities that focus more on team-building and relationship-building with the girls only. Strengthening her connections to other group members can take the emphasis off of her attachment to the mentor. If these early interventions are not successful, you may consider matching her into a different mentoring group.
At Sarnia Lambton Rebound they use a 5-second or 5-minute rule: Can the information wait a couple minutes to be addressed or is it urgent that the information be shared with the Program Coordinator or Staff in charge right away? This is used in their volunteer training and orientation so that all mentors can use this as a guiding principle when facing a potential crisis within the group.
There should be processes in place and training that covers what a mentor should do in the event that a girl in their group is faced with a crisis. It is important that from the outset, the responsibilities of mentors are clearly distinguished from the staff person. The mentor should be responsible to report the concern and from there, staff should be responsible for taking action, making a referral or speaking with the girls’ guardian, school or the Children’s Aid Society. It is helpful to have a referral list and processes identified before starting the program so all staff are clear on the agencies available in their community to help a girl or mentor in crisis.
Finally, when there is crisis intervention for a girl or mentor in the group be sure that the staff engage in open dialogue with the other group members to ensure they are not vicariously affected and to reassure that these steps have been taken in the best interest of the girl’s or mentor’s well-being. Debriefing or supporting each group member when emotions are affected is of paramount importance.
You may encounter an issue with girls not showing up regularly for the program. This affects not only their experience, but also the other girls’ experiences in the group as well as the mentor(s) that they have been matched with. It is important to recognize that their inconsistent attendance may be due to a variety of reasons—many of which can be outside of their control. Some common challenges might include:
Many of the challenges above can be rectified through conversation and action. It is first advisable to contact the girl to find out why she is not attending. Use the method of communication that she prefers and determine whether the irregular attendance is based on a conscious personal choice or from reasons outside of her control. You might also contact the parents or guardians since the absence may be attributed to them not fully understanding the commitment required for the program. Ensure parents or guardians understand the importance of ongoing attendance and that her absence affects how their daughter experiences the program and also the experiences of the other girls. Find out if you can help if there are barriers in place and if the parents or guardians need more ongoing communication to help keep them engaged.
“You are all RICH! I live on the POOR side of town…”
A staff person from a girls group mentoring program stumbled upon this issue after driving the girls home after a field trip. When the first girl was dropped off, one of their mentees pointed out the obvious difference in the size of home her fellow mentee lived in compared to her own. This was the beginning of a withdrawal from the program for this mentee. Following this incident, the mentee continually compared herself to her peers and began skipping sessions to spend time with a friend that she felt closer with. It was difficult to re-attach this girl to her group, however they found it helpful to create space for her friend to join so she could feel more comfortable within the group. This has also informed future conversations and discussion around ‘privilege.’ The group subsequently had discussions about the things that made them ‘rich’ to identify that fortune came in different ways and that it didn’t make any single girl more valuable than any other.
When mentors fail to show up at meetings, it creates a major challenge and can negatively affect the group of girls. This is sometimes beyond the mentor’s control when faced with crisis, illness or other issues. You can put practices into place to avoid this situation through the use of co-mentors, tri-mentors or backup mentors (see Program and Meetings section for more information). You should also be sure that your training and orientation process reinforces the importance of the mentor’s role and the need for their ongoing attendance and commitment.
If they cannot be present in the moment because of conflict or issues they are experiencing in their own lives, mentors should inform the staff person so they can better support them. They should know that it is okay if they need to take a break or focus on a crisis in their own lives.
If a mentor routinely misses meetings, connect with them directly to have a conversation about the reasons for their absence. Reinforce the importance of their role and confirm that they are able to continue the commitment and that the meetings still work with their schedule. Approach this in a sensitive and non-accusatory way since sometimes the mentors are facing challenges in their lives they cannot control. Find out how you can support them to regularly attend.
In the meantime, it is imperative that girls are not left without a mentor. This reinforces the importance and value of having a backup mentor available. If this is not an option in your program, have staff or another mentor take over the group. Recognize that having a new mentor or staff take over the group will alter the group cohesion in both positive and negative ways. To guide the girls during this adjustment, it can be helpful to engage them in the process, acknowledge the change and thank them for their cooperation. It is best not to break up the group of girls among different groups, but to keep them matched together.
“When handled well, it is believed that the termination process can solidify gains made, resolve issues that have arisen in the …relationship itself, and prepare the [youth] for maintaining healthy functioning without the support of [mentor]” that it is okay if they need to take a break or focus on a crisis in their own lives.
- Spencer and Basualdo-Demonico (2013)
Planning for the closure of a group and the termination of relationships is an important part of the mentoring model. Relationship closure implies the healthy and planned ending of a mentoring relationship. This takes place when a program communicates a clear end date from the outset and when this plan is followed through.
When developing your program, specific policies and processes should be outlined for managing positive relationship endings, whether planned or unplanned. See Program & Meetings for details and suggestions on planning healthy closure.
Relationship termination implies an unplanned relationship ending between a mentor and the girl(s) she is mentoring. This can take place for a variety of reasons, recognizing that both mentors and mentees have complex lives of their own. Engaging in a clear closure process can model healthy endings for youth who have experienced poorly-handled endings in prior relationships. This raises the importance of creating healthy discussion and activities that celebrate and close the relationship when it ends early. Conversely, poorly-ended relationships can reinforce negative working models of relationships and diminish optimism that things will go well or differently in future relationships. If a relationship ends early and is not handled properly, it can actually do more damage for the girl than if the mentoring relationship had never been initiated.
The best way to avoid early relationship termination is to ensure mentors are screened properly and have realistic expectations, and to run a well-structured and well-supported program. However, in a case when a relationship ends earlier than planned, it is important for program staff to facilitate a closure process for mentors and mentees. It is valuable to celebrate the learning that occurred from the relationship and to allow the participants a chance to say goodbye.
Some suggestions for managing the unplanned early termination of mentoring relationships include:
Take time to reflect on the reasons that led to early termination and how to best learn from the unplanned situation. Sometimes the early termination of relationships cannot be avoided, such as when a mentor faces a sudden crisis or has to move, however in some cases there are certain supports, training or information that could have been provided to mitigate the closure. It is important to embrace this as a learning opportunity to strengthen the experience of girls in your program moving forward.
Karcher (2012) highlights steps when managing the termination of mentoring relationships:1. Explain the reason for the ending
- Karcher (2012)
Take the time to reflect on what was unique about this particular scenario:
At Cornerstone Family & Youth Inc., they find ways to celebrate the early departure of girls. When one of their mentees had to move, the group threw her a going-away party and had a chance to celebrate their time together and to say goodbye. They put together a gift bag with activities for her drive to her new town and an item that she could remember them by. They had cupcakes and all wrote special notes to her on a big poster card that she could hang on her wall. Every girl in the program had a photo to remember the day. A short while later, the group informed staff that they were keeping in touch through texts and Facebook.
Where there is the option, consider conducting an exit interview with the mentor to better understand their reasons for leaving. This would allow you to address some of these concerns or improve parts of the program to prevent future early endings. If a face-to-face interview isn’t possible, you can request their feedback through a survey shared by email. Emphasize the value they can add to the program by sharing their input.
Within a group mentoring context, there is disruption to cohesion when a girl has to leave the program early. The group dynamic can be altered and a loss will likely be felt by both the girls and mentors. It is important to celebrate her participation in the program and to make space for the girls to say goodbye. You might also consider encouraging their continued communication as a ‘pen pal’ with the group either traditionally through letters or with the use of social media.
Managing the group dynamic is an important ongoing task in a girls group mentoring program. The key is to be prepared to handle common challenges that could arise once the program is up and running. When planning this component, keep in mind: