Natural mentoring among older youth in and aging out of foster care:
A systematic review
Allison E. Thompson, Johanna K.P. Greeson, Ashleigh M. Brunsink
Due to their histories of caregiver maltreatment, living instability, and potential attachment challenges associated with out-of-home care, older foster youth represent a particularly vulnerable group of adolescents at increased risk for a number of poor well-being outcomes. However, research supports the notion that a relationship with a competent, caring adult, such as a mentor, may serve protectively for vulnerable youth, and a nascent yet growing body of literature suggests that naturally occurring mentoring relationships from within youth's social networks are associated with improved outcomes among young people in foster care during adolescence and the transition to adulthood. This systematic review is the first to comprehensively identify, synthesize, and summarize what we currently know from nearly a decade of theories, concepts, and research findings pertaining to natural mentoring among adolescent youth in foster care. A bibliographic search of seven databases and personal outreach to mentoring researchers and practitioners through a national listserv yielded 38 English-language documents from academic sources and the gray literature pertaining to natural mentoring among older foster youth. We identified quantitative studies that have been conducted to test the theories and hypotheses that have emerged from the qualitative studies of natural mentoring among youth in foster care. Together, this literature suggests that natural mentoring is a promising practice for youth in foster care. Based on our findings from the systematic review, we make practice recommendations to encourage the facilitation of natural mentoring within child welfare contexts and outline an agenda for future research that more rigorously investigates natural mentoring among older youth in foster care.
Dr. Johanna K.P. Greeson (@johannagreeson) is passionate about reforming the child welfare system, using research to build better futures for youth who age out of foster care, and realizing the power of connections to caring adults for all vulnerable youth. Her research agenda is resiliency-focused and based in the strengths and virtues that enable foster youth to not only survive, but thrive. Dr. Greeson’s published work includes scholarly articles on youth aging out of foster care, independent living, natural mentoring, evidence-based practices for youth in foster care, residential group care, intensive in-home therapy, low-income home-ownership, and child/adolescent traumatic stress. Dr. Greeson is currently piloting an innovative natural mentoring intervention for older youth in foster care in partnership with Philadelphia Department of Human Services. This project was funded by the Children's Bureau.
Allison Thompson received her Master of Social Services from Bryn Mawr College. Allison attended Cairn University in Langhorne, PA as an undergraduate, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work. Prior to joining SP2’s Ph.D. program in Social Welfare, Allison worked as a research writer in the Philadelphia Department of Human Services. Her research interests include the transition to adulthood among youth aging out of foster care, natural mentoring for older youth in foster care, relational permanence, positive youth development theory, and resiliency, risk, and protective factors.
Ashleigh M. Brunsink is the Child Welfare Policy Analyst at Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, where she supports PPC's child welfare policy development and implementation work, which focuses on ensuring children are raised in loving and knowledgeable families free from abuse and neglect. She received her MSW degree in 2016 from the University of Pennsylvania.