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.

Program Population

Girls With Disabilities

Almost 4% of children in Canada between the ages of 1 and 14 years of age have a disability (as reported by their parents). Between the ages of 6 and 11, 30% of Canadian children have one or more chronic physical health conditions, while 3.6% have activity-limiting conditions or impairments (McDougall et al., 2004). Partners for Youth with Disabilities (2005) underscore the reality that “youth with disabilities are in need of positive role models who have overcome barriers to become successful adults.”

“Based on Partners for Youth with Disabilities experience in mentoring youth with disabilities, below are examples of potential outcomes [of youth programming] for youth with disabilities:

• Increased independent living skills.
• Improved motivation and self-esteem.
• Healthier relationships with family, friends, teachers, etc.
• Increased involvement in community and extracurricular activities.
• Increased interest in continuing education and the knowledge of how to do so.
• Increased interest in having a job/career and the knowledge of how to do so.
• Increased disability pride.
• Increased knowledge of disability rights.
• Improved self-advocacy skills.”

- Partners for Youth with Disabilities (2005)

Among school-aged children with a disability, chronic health conditions are the most common type of disability for girls (65%), followed closely by learning disabilities (63%) (Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, 2006). However, professionals are not often educated or sufficiently trained to meet the needs of girls with disabilities. As a result, a girl with a disability is more likely to be uneducated about her rights and responsibilities. This lack of access to education increases her vulnerability to violence and abuse.

Contemporary research on girls with disabilities is sparse. It is clear, however, that girls with a disability are more likely to experience physical and sexual abuse:

  • Violence and exploitation against women and girls with a disability occurs at a rate 50% higher than in the rest of society (Rosen, 2006).
  • Police and community members may fail to respond appropriately to incidents of violence against girls with disabilities, doubting the credibility of the reporter (Rousso & Linn, 2001).
  • Women with disabilities were twice as likely to report severe physical violence and 3 times as likely to be forced into sexual activity as women without disabilities (Brownridge, 2006).
  • More than 60% of children in care are estimated to have a disability of some kind (Canadian Association for Community Living, 2003). The Canadian Incidence Study (Trocmé et al., 2010) found that the most common child functioning issues reported for children who had been abused were academic difficulties (14%), ADD or ADHD (11%), and intellectual or developmental disabilities (11%).

Given this ableist cultural context, it is clear that girls with disabilities represent a group that would benefit greatly from the strengths that are built through mentoring, as well as the body-positive messages that are so important in diversity-positive spaces.

The way that ‘disability’ has been defined and understood has been the topic of much controversy. The World Health Organization (1980) refers to disability as “any restriction or lack (resulting from an impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.” In The Right to Be Safe, Rajan (2006) outlines concerns that the WHO definition individualizes disability, rather than addressing how societal attitudes compound challenges for girls with disabilities:

“Disability activists ask us to acknowledge that it is the limitations or lack of accommodation that society imposes that limit advantage and access to full participation in society, rather than an individual’s characteristics. In this context, the problem of disability is not with the impairment, but rather ‘disability’ arises from the barriers to equal participation that are in place in society. When we are attempting to identify the barriers and strategies to eliminate those barriers, it is more constructive to focus on the areas where social systems and services have the ‘deficiency’ in meeting the diverse needs of all members of our communities, rather than the individual.”

One organization shared that they promote accessibility without singling girls out by emphasizing cooperation and shared decision-making. Since all the girls are active and collaborative decision-makers in their mentoring groups, they plan and decide on activities that reflect their shared interests and abilities. With mentors guidance, they take on roles according to their strengths. When an activity feels uncomfortable to any one girl, they eliminate that activity and decide on something different. This way, all girls’ strengths are at the forefront, regardless of their abilities.

Through program design, group mentoring programs for girls have an opportunity to proactively eliminate potential barriers for participation for girls with disabilities. Particularly in a group mentoring context, there is the opportunity to match girls based on diversity and facilitate learning and understanding of differences between the members of the group. Each girl has strengths and challenges that can be discussed through the mentor’s facilitation and own self-reflection. Finding an outlet for each of the girls’ talents is critical so they can all celebrate their strengths with confidence. 

Mentoring programs do not necessarily have to direct their programming solely to children and youth with disabilities in order to serve this population. Partners for Youth with Disabilities (2005) explains that “agencies may take a few small steps to make their programs more accessible.” Some considerations for ensuring that girls with disabilities are welcomed and included in a girls group mentoring program include:

  • Ensuring that mentors have the knowledge, training, skills and support to build positive and impactful relationships with the girls.
  • Adopting a strength-based perspective, expecting the best and highlighting the strengths and abilities of all the girls in the group.
  • Creating space for each of the girls’ talents to be shared and steering discussion among the girls to challenge ways that the media and other institutions are not inclusive.
  • Ensuring meeting spaces are accessible for all, which includes considering physical layout, lighting, level of stimulus, acoustics etc.

Contact: mentoringgirls(at)