Courtesy of Robert L. Listenbee, Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)
Every child deserves the opportunity to grow up with the guidance and support of a caring adult.
January marks the 14th annual National Mentoring Month, a nationwide campaign that aims to recruit mentors and focus national attention on the importance of those working together to ensure positive outcomes for youth.
This is a great time to discuss why mentoring programs are critical to the success of our youth and how OJJDP is supporting these programs around the country. We know mentoring can positively impact young people, helping to keep them from becoming involved in the juvenile justice system and guiding them toward a happy and productive future.
OJJDP has long been a strong champion of mentoring programs and I am proud of the commitment that we have shown in this field. Just last year, we awarded nearly $80 million in discretionary grant funding to support programs around the country. This included a focus on mentoring for underserved youth populations, including American Indian and Alaska Native youth.
At this time last year, OJJDP partnered with MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership to launch the National Mentoring Resource Center, which supports organizations across the country as they implement effective youth mentoring programs and promote healthy youth development.
OJJDP has also funded mentoring research, including investigator-initiated and demonstration projects to move the field toward evidence-based and effective practices for youth mentoring.
Research has helped us understand what mentoring programs, practices, and resources have been effective and what aspects of these programs should be emulated in others.
This year, we are proud to announce a new feature within the National Mentoring Resource Center that highlights what the research says about specific mentoring programs and their target populations. Our first review focuses on group mentoring, where one or more mentors is matched with a group of youth for a shared mentoring experience.
As research institutions across the country point out, mentoring programs can improve school attendance rates, increase the odds that young adults will enroll in college, and decrease the likelihood that young men and women will begin using drugs or alcohol.
Personally, I have seen the voids in the lives of children without mentors. I saw it when I served as the Chief of the Juvenile Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia where I met countless children with very adult problems and little to no adult guidance.
I have also seen the transformative power of mentoring. I have seen troubled boys become responsible men and at-risk girls become empowered women under the guidance of caring adults. Those moments and triumphs are the story of mentoring.
Good mentors provide a sense of emotional connection and active guidance, and they become positive role models. They can also help build resilience in young people who have suffered trauma and other adverse childhood experiences.
For example, mentoring programs have shown to be a promising form of support for youth with incarcerated parents. It is estimated that 1.7 million youth in this country have at least one parent currently in prison and millions more have a parent in jail.
Through the Second Chance Act, OJJDP has funded a grant that uses mentoring to strengthen the relationships between young fathers and young mothers and their children as they transition from correctional facilities back to their families and communities.
President Obama recognized the importance of mentoring programs when he proclaimed October 2015 as National Youth Justice Awareness Month. In that proclamation, he highlighted My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative that aims to eliminate the barriers and opportunity gaps that boys and young men of color face.
OJJDP is a proud partner with this initiative, which helps to address these issues and provide these youth the tools they need to ensure their success. A number of tools that support mentoring programs around the country can be found at our National Mentoring Resource Center.
We are also partnering with MENTOR to host the 6th annual National Mentoring Summit, which is being held January 27-29, 2016 in Washington, DC. The Summit will bring together nearly 1,000 individuals who represent the mentoring movement, including federal and local government agencies, practitioners, researchers, civic leaders, and others.
This is an excellent opportunity to discuss how we can advance mentoring programs and celebrate those who are doing great work in supporting young men and women around the country. I look forward to seeing many of you there.
Stay tuned to OJJDP.gov and subscribe to our news services—JUVJUST and OJJDP News @ a Glance—to learn more about how OJJDP supports mentoring programs and is working to advance juvenile justice system reform.