Letters to the Editor for April 2007

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How Mentoring Got Diluted

The December/January article, “The Study that Ignited (or Diluted) Mentoring,” is very important and factual, especially as described by its title. I was with Tom McKenna when we rolled out the Public/Private Ventures (P/PV) study to the community in Los Angeles, and we were pleased to have facts to back up our anecdotal evaluations and suspicions as to the worth of mentoring.

What has occurred since then has not been all so pleasing to us Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS) agencies.

Mentoring became a movement that encouraged the public and private sectors to put resources into play to develop capacity expansion. Many new “mentoring” agencies sprouted up, and the time-honored best practices of BBBS that were part of the P/PV study were diluted to encourage more players. When funds were available in California, the first publication of the Governor’s Mentoring Partnership had over 700 identified “mentoring” agencies. The second publishing only identified about 300 agencies, because funds were tighter and quality standards were imposed.

There are many competing “mentoring” agencies in some urban communities that dilute the access to volunteers and funding. Some are qualified as “academic mentoring” or “sports mentoring” agencies. True mentoring helps children improve in these and other areas because they have a role model and someone who cares about them.

Not only are resources diluted, but child safety is diminished if best practices in screening and case follow-up are not paramount.

Ken Martinet, CEO

Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters

Los Angeles

Why Staff Training Falls Short

I read with great interest your article “Does Staff Training Improve Youth Work?” in the March issue. During the last year, following a 40-year career in human service management, I have been spending my time with program supervisors of group homes and other residential settings. Most of this work has been targeted at leadership development.

Based on my experience, I would like to provide three explanations as to why the results of the youth development project you describe are so mixed.

First of all, while many youth workers need training, the need which precedes training is development. We are all born with leadership skills that can be developed so that we can use them more effectively and consistently. We need to learn about motivation, building human relationships, communication, team-building, success attitudes and goal-setting. After we have been through that process and have demonstrated that we are ready to lead ourselves and others, then we can learn about the newest youth care models. 

Second, leaving the program and going to hotel- or university-based training will always result in mediocre outcomes, because there is limited opportunity to integrate the new learning with operational realities. Further, the likelihood of retaining what has been learned is minimal. Most people forget most of what they hear at a single seminar within one week of hearing it.

Our development process takes place over one year and provides many opportunities to discuss certain concepts. It allows workers to practice new behaviors in a real-world context and get the support of the facilitator and other participants.

Third, many direct care workers labor without enough support. Most can identify major job “dissatisfiers” that no one seems ready to address. Pile this on top of the fact that their salaries force most of them to have second jobs. The result of all this is usually an astronomical turnover rate that lowers everyone’s morale and saps time and energy from any initiative to do things differently.

Larry Wenger, President

Workforce Performance Group

Newtown, Pa.