Understanding Mentoring Relationships during and after COVID‑19 Restrictions from the Perspective of Youth and Mentors: A Participatory Research Approach

Craig, Stephanie G. | $24,703

Ontario York University 2021 SSHRC

The emergence of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), with subsequent public health interventions, has had a significant impact on the daily lives of Canadians, including adolescents (ages 12-18). One protective factor for adolescent mental wellbeing identified prior to COVID‑19 is healthy relationships with adults, which build resiliency against negative outcomes among adolescents [3, 4]. The Big Brothers, Big Sisters Canada (BBBSC) organization provides free mentorship service and promotes healthy relationships through mentorship programs through their 100 local agencies. With new variants emerging and uncertainty around the future trajectory of the pandemic as it relates to mental health and wellness [5], programs such as BBBSC need to understand how COVID‑19 has impacted these protective relationships. BBBSC programming has been complicated by the need to move mentoring relationships online, and more recently, the return to in-person relationships. Although some research, including our own, has shown that online mentoring relationships continue to be protective during the pandemic [7], considerably less attention has been paid to the dynamics of the mentoring relationship itself. The overall objective of this study is to gain a deeper understanding of why and how COVID‑19 has impacted mentoring relationships for adolescents.

To build this understanding, and in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), we will engage a youth advisory council in the development and dissemination of this study. Together with our youth advisors, we will explore youth-identified perspectives on the role of mentoring relationships, without making assumptions regarding youths’ experiences and present needs. We will explore three main objectives: 1) identifying barriers and facilitators of strong mentorship relationships during COVID-19, 2) understanding how COVID‑19 and associated stressors impacted the mentor’s ability to support youth, and 3) assessing the impact of inequity on youth mentorship relationships, including the role of compatibility in youth and mentor diversity. COVID‑19 is not equitable and has had a greater impact on equity-deserving communities[9]; therefore, we also aim to address the impact of diversity (e.g., racial and gender minorities) and inequities (e.g., lack of computer or internet) on mentoring relationships.

We will do this through thematic analysis from interviews with adolescents involved in the BBBSC organization (n = 10), a comparison sample of non-BBBSC adolescents (n =10), and a sample of mentors (n = 20). Participants will be drawn from an ongoing longitudinal quantitative sample of both BBBSC and non-BBBSC youth (n ~ 700 total). Interviews will be done in either English or French, and we will ensure at least 50% of the selected youth and mentors are from a gender or racial minority and represent each region of Canada. Throughout the project, we will meet with our youth advisory committee who will co-create the questions, and assist in interpreting responses from youth and mentors.

The results from this study have direct implications for improving services for youth, such as those offered by BBBSC, to account for the unique challenges of COVID-19. While BBBSC was able to quickly adapt their services to virtual delivery, it is still unclear what longer term impact that change has had on existing mentorship relationships. Further, as adolescents and adults continue to struggle with aftermath of COVID-19, mentoring relationships will continue to be impacted. Results from this study will inform BBBSC’s efforts to adapt their programs to digital formats.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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