April 03, 2023, Durham, NC – As rates of incarceration in the United States have steadily climbed for the past 40 years, providing high quality support to children of incarcerated parents has become increasingly important to limit negative impacts on their self-esteem, relationships with their parents, and sense of the future, among other harmful effects. Mentoring programs can reduce negative behavioral, social, emotional, and cognitive outcomes for children of incarcerated parents by providing youth with opportunities for growth and engagement in supportive relationships. iRT conducts research on mentoring best practices to assist mentoring programs serving children of incarcerated parents and help them provide the most supportive, impactful experiences possible for mentees.
iRT completed a large-scale, multi-site, randomized controlled trial evaluation, in conjunction with collaborators at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, to examine the effectiveness of enhanced mentoring program practices intended to support children of incarcerated caregivers. The study was conducted over the course of six years at 20 mentoring programs across the United States and is in press in a special issue of the Journal of Community Psychology.
iRT Research Scientists Drs. Janis Kupersmidt, Rebecca Stelter, and Katie Stump worked with the mentoring programs to randomize a diverse sample of over 1,300 mentees with currently or previously incarcerated caregivers to an enhancement or control condition. Participants in the control group engaged in mentoring program practices typically assigned in their respective mentoring programs, whereas the enhancement group received additional mentor pre-match and post-match training, additional monitoring and coaching from program staff, and strengths-based staff supervision. Staff members supervising the enhancement condition were also provided with an assets checklist to match mentors and mentees effectively, and an initial match meeting conversation guide.
Data were collected from mentees, mentors, and parents before the match began and at six-, twelve-, and eighteen-month follow-up occasions. Results indicated that mentees with incarcerated parents in the enhancement condition experienced reduced substance use and internalizing behaviors, including loneliness and depression, compared to the business-as-usual control condition. Additionally, these mentees experienced more positive self-cognitions, including positive thoughts about themselves and their futures, compared to the control group. These findings suggest that mentoring programs serving children of incarcerated caregivers would benefit from providing increased support for mentees and implementing enhanced program practices, such as high-quality mentor training, that is tailored for this particularly vulnerable population of youth.
If you’d like to read the full article or are interested in knowing more about our work with mentoring programs serving children of incarcerated caregivers, contact Dr. Rebecca Stelter.
If you’re interested in providing evidence-based trainings to your volunteer mentors to improve outcomes for mentees, browse our 2023 catalog for our various offerings that fit your needs.