Mentee Readiness

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Stop Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

“This project was supported by Grant #2017-MC-FX-K051 awarded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.” 

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Like mentors, youth must be willing to commit and invest time in a mentoring relationship, as well as to participate in activities and collaborate on goals. Mentoring relationships have the potential to create new value and meaning in the lives of youth.

However, failed mentoring relationships, especially those lasting less than a year, can do harm and create mistrust in the youth who participate (Grossman & Rhodes, 2002; Spencer, Collins, Ward, & Smashnaya, 2010). While most research focuses on mentor readiness, ensuring a mentee is prepared to enter a mentoring relationship creates a foundation for success. The Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring, a compendium of evidence-informed practices in mentoring, includes several standards around mentee recruitment and screening.

These standards include:

  • Recruitment materials that accurately reflect the program benefits and expectations in a way that allows prospective mentees to assess the relevance of participation for them individually.
  • A written application in which a mentee shares information specific to their interest in, and goals for a mentoring relationship.
  • A written form in which a mentee provides their assent/consent to participation in the program.
  • Orientation training for youth that details program opportunities, policies and expectations, and addresses any questions and concerns.

So what?

There are many considerations while determining if mentoring is a good fit with where a young person is physically, emotionally, and in their current life circumstances.

  • A potential mentee should be assessed for readiness to commit to a formal mentoring relationship. It is important to consider if the prospective mentee is clear about the commitment they will make and what they hope to experience in the relationship. In addition, are they mentally and emotionally ready to engage in a relationship with a mentor (Dubois & Felner, 2016)?
  • The Stages of Change is an important model to consider with regards to assessing mentee readiness (Boddy, Agllias, & Gray, 2012) and can help mentoring programs be successful. The Stages of Change Model describes how a person modifies their behavior through six stages: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance (which includes relapse or recurrence).
    • Mentees who are unable to commit to change are likely to be unsatisfied and gain little from a mentoring relationship (Boddy, Agllias, & Gray, 2012).
    • Recognizing which Stage of Change a youth is in can help determine their readiness for a mentoring relationship. Some youth may not be in a place where they see the relevance of a mentor to their life and needs.
    • Mentors who are trained in understanding the Stages of Change will be better prepared to support their mentee. Program staff builds on this understanding through match support conversations.  
  • Research shows that adverse challenges and barriers can affect a mentoring relationship (Boddy et al., 2012).
    • The trauma that victims/survivors of trafficking have faced has an impact on their emotional, mental, social, physical, and spiritual health (National Sexual Violence Research Center, 2014).
  • Victims/survivors of trafficking are likely to have more unstable or transient lifestyles, depending on their stage of recovery (DuBois & Felner, 2016). This can make consistent contact with a mentor difficult.
    • Additionally, because of the traumatic nature of trafficking, it may be necessary for youth to participate in and complete other forms of support services before they are ready to engage in a mentoring relationship (DuBois & Felner, 2016).
  • Research consistently shows that mentoring relationships lasting at least a year are more successful and produce greater benefits for the mentees (Grossman & Rhodes, 2002; Higley, Walker, Bishop, & Fritz, 2014; Spencer et al., 2010). Like mentors, mentees should also be prepared to commit at least one year to the relationship, if this is consistent with the program model.
    • A one-year commitment may seem daunting to a youth who is in the process of exiting or has just exited a life of commercial sexual exploitation. Mentors should be educated on the potential for these youth to leave and return to services multiple times before completely exiting (DuBois & Felner, 2016).
  • Mentee/mentor matches that receive support from their program tend to have better quality and longer-lasting relationships (Dubois, Holloway, Valentine, & Cooper, 2002; Higley et al., 2014).
  • Youth experiencing trafficking may face obstacles to mentoring that other young people do not. However, this does not mean that they would not be able to benefit from mentoring.
    • When engaging victims/survivors of human trafficking in a mentoring relationship, it is important to consider how past trauma may affect their ability to engage in that relationship.
    • Programs should have supports that allow for the youth to work through the challenges past trauma might present in a mentoring relationship.
  • Victims/survivors of trafficking are more likely to come from a home where violence and abuse are common.
    • Mentoring relationships can provide youth with much-needed positive adult interaction (DuBois & Felner, 2016).
      • Social connections are a research-identified resilience and protective factor (Countryman-Roswurm, 2012; Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2014).
    • Youth may not have models of healthy relationships in their life and may need time and support to understand what a healthy relationship is.

Now what?

Mentor Practice Implications for Individuals

  • Mentees should be assessed for their readiness to engage with a mentor and make changes to their previous circumstances and patterns.
  • As mentees, victim/survivors will often need support that goes beyond the scope of a mentoring relationship. Victim/survivors of CSEC would benefit from participation in additional supportive services to address the trauma associated with trafficking.
  • Mentees should be encouraged to make a one-year commitment. However, for youth exiting a life of commercial sexual exploitation, it may be wise to build flexibility into the relationship such as providing for the opportunity to leave and return to services (Dubois & Felner, 2016).

Practice Implications for Service Providers

  • Service providers should acknowledge the principles of the Stages of Change model. They should ensure youth are ready for a change before matching them with a mentor.
    • If a youth is not yet ready to consider change, it may be best to allow additional time and support before recommending a mentoring relationship.
      • Providing supporting services, allows the youth to stay connected with the agency until they are ready to engage in a mentoring relationship. For more information on keeping youth engaged, see our blog.  
      • Assuring the young person that you look forward to them being able to matched with a mentor in the future and helping them understand what is needed to be ready helps combat feelings of rejection.
      • If not available in your agency, identify resources that aid the young person in addressing the barriers that prevent a successful match.
    • Engaging youth in mentoring relationships who are not ready may result in frustration from both the mentor and mentee. This could impact attitudes toward mentoring in a negative way and harm a youth’s relational expectations. This frustration could also impact a program’s ability to retain mentors.
      • Programs can provide alternatives or enhancements to the traditional one-to-one mentoring relationship that enable youth to be engaged with the project in a way that feels comfortable for them. For example, options such as group mentoring or hosting one-to-one match activities on-site provides an opportunity for youth to engage in a way that feels comfortable to them.
    • It’s important to recognize that the Stages of Change is not a linear process. Youth may struggle in making changes and have periods of time when they are unable to engage in their mentoring relationship. Mentors and programs should be prepared for this, meet youth where they are, and provide appropriate services.


  • A screening tool will help discover prospective mentees who are ready to take on the commitment of a mentoring relationship. In this tool, clearly stated requirements, disqualifications, and a description of the program should be listed. Screening should include an in-person interview and an opportunity to share qualities that the youth would appreciate in a mentor. Ultimately, the screening tool should measure a youth’s openness and commitment to the mentoring process (Mentor Resources, 2015; Dubois & Felner, 2016).

Pre-Match Training for Mentees

  • Training for mentees does not need to be as intensive as training for mentors, but it is important. Training for mentees should include expectations for them as the mentee, expectations for the mentor, benefits of mentoring, rules and boundaries, opportunities to consider for activities, and program support. This ensures that a youth is fully prepared to enter the program and the mentoring relationship.
  • Some topics to include in mentee training are (Garringer, M., Kupersmidt, Rhodes, Stelter & Tai, 2015):
    • Purpose of mentoring
    • Program requirements
    • Expectations and roles of both mentee and mentor
    • Ethical/safety issues
    • Processes for monitoring and supporting the match
    • How to access assistance from service provider
    • Mentee goals and needs
    • Closure of relationship
  • Mentees should also be trained on risk management to ensure they have the tools and resources needed to feel comfortable in the mentoring relationship. Sample topics include:
    • Appropriate physical contact and relationship boundaries
    • Emergency contact information and processes
    • Who to contact at the program if you have questions
    • Confidentiality
    • Mandatory reporting requirements (i.e. child abuse/neglect, suicidality, homicidality)
    • Digital and social media use
    • Types of mentor/mentee visits and approved activities
    • Transportation policies

On-going Match Support

  • Offering support for the mentee enables the service provider to maintain continuous feedback to ensure the mentoring relationship is functioning well. It creates the opportunity for youth to better understand how they contribute to the development of the relationship, and to recognize growth and accomplishments.
  • Most research focuses on supporting the mentor; however, feedback from youth is crucial to understanding ways the provider can assist and support them.  Youth can also be hired to serve in an advisory role, provide peer support, and co-lead mentor training.
  • Engaging a parent/caregiver or other significant caring adult that the youth has identified can provide additional feedback and support for the match relationship (Keller, 2005).


  • Identify and connect with community partners to receive referrals for potential mentees.
  • Partner with community partners to create a continuum of service linkages to support the range of service needs that may emerge for mentees, especially those that are victims/survivors of commercial sexual exploitation.


Discussion Questions

  • Why is it important to consider a young person’s readiness for a mentoring relationship?
  • What is the Stages of Change Model and how does that relate to mentee readiness and an ongoing mentoring relationship?
  • What are some important considerations as you screen youth for mentoring relationships?
  • How would an organization prepare a young person to become a mentee?


  • Boddy, J., Agllias, K., & Gray, M. (2012). Mentoring in social work: key findings from a women's community-based mentoring program. Journal of Social Work Practice, 26(3), 385-405.
  • Countryman-Roswurm, K. (2012). Girls like you, girls like me: An analysis of domestic minor sex trafficking and the development of a risk and resiliency assessment for sexually exploited youth. Doctoral Dissertation. Wichita State University, Kansas.
  • Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2014). Protective Factors Approaches in Child Welfare. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. Retrieved from:
  • DuBois, D., Felner, J. (2016). Mentoring for youth with backgrounds of involvement in commercial sex activity. National Mentoring Resource Center. Retrieved from:…
  • Dubois, D., Holloway, B., Valentine, J., & Cooper, H. (2002). Effectiveness of mentoring programs for youth: A meta-analytic review. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30(2), 157-197.
  • Garringer, M., Kupersmidt, J., Rhodes, J., Stelter, R., & Tai, T. (2015). Elements of effective practice for mentoring, fourth edition. Boston: MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. Retrieved from:…
  • Grossman, J., & Rhodes, J. (2002). The test of time: Predictors and effects of duration in youth mentoring relationships. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30(2), 199-219.
  • Higley, H, Walker, S., Bishop, A., & Fritz, C. (2014). Achieving high quality and long-lasting matches in youth mentoring programs: A case study of 4Results mentoring. Child and Family Social Work, 21, 240 – 248.
  • National Sexual Violence Resource Center. (2014). Linking the roads: Working with youth who experience homelessness & sexual violence. Retrieved from:
  • Spencer, R., Collins, M., Ward, R., & Smashnaya, S. (2010). Mentoring for young people leaving foster care: Promise and potential pitfalls. Social Work, 55(3), 225-234.
  • Taylor, J. (2003). Training new mentees. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. National Mentoring Center. Retrieved from:

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