Oscar Prieto-Flores: Impacts of Social and Youth Mentoring

What are the impacts of social mentoring programmes? How are they impacting the lives of migrant and refugee youth and adults in European Society? Òscar Prieto-Flores has been studying the impacts of social mentoring in the European context; research into migration, ethnic minority groups, and mentoring projects with children and youth of immigrant backgrounds. We recently had a meeting with Oscar to obtain his insights and experience on the impacts of social mentoring on European society, especially on refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants coming to Europe.

Oscar’s work is noteworthy for finding evidence for mentoring in Europe. He has been conducting a three-year study to assess the impacts of three relevant mentoring programmes in Europe; one targeting adolescents, another targeting unaccompanied youth under 18, and lastly mentoring programmes for refugees. Along with his research partner Justin M. Preston, he is now communicating with the media, policy-makers, and mentoring practitioners to investigate the political and social implications of the research outcomes they have found.

So how effective are these social mentoring programmes? Oscar has observed that mentoring programmes that are target-oriented are having higher positive impacts than other programmes that utilize open mentoring and friendship models. What his study found out that mentoring programmes which are targeting their needs and are aimed at developing specific abilities and skills have the highest impacts in terms of positive outcomes. This means that mentoring programmes targeted at migrant adolescents have the most benefits on those who have recently arrived in Spain, in the last 3 years. What is noteworthy in the Spanish context is these adolescents with immigrant backgrounds have the perfect profile to be mentored and are approached by mentoring programmes seeking to provide them with help and support. But the actual impacts of these programme can vary. In many cases, those with migrant backgrounds who were born in Spain do not receive a better mentoring approach than those who are newcomers. This is quite common as mentoring programmes and activities are oriented more towards the newcomers and not for those who were born there.

A good example would be how mentoring programmes prioritize language acquisition. Mentees who are new to the country and supported by mentors help them not only with language acquisition but also navigate the educational system which is new for them. Teachers and mentors also support this, with language acquisition as the main outcome of these mentoring programmes for the mentees. This ensures that they will spend less time in introductory classes and be moved more quickly to ordinary classes. This indicates a good strategy to promote social inclusion and teachers revealed that those migrant youth who were mentored participated three times more in the classroom than those who did not participate in such programmes.

Furthermore, these targeted mentoring programmes enhance the self-esteem of the mentee, they are more comfortable in the new surroundings, they feel safer, have a better command of the new language, and more likely to reach out to adults and members of the community.

The study also points towards certain challenges of these mentoring programmes towards the social inclusion of these mentees. One of these challenges are matching the mentees and mentors in cross-cultural pairs; mentee from an immigrant background and mentors who are natives. Improper matches might result in mentors having a paternalistic approach which is when the mentees feel that their cultural background is inferior to that of the western cultures. However, these feelings can be minimized through proper training of the mentees to promote anti-racist and intercultural relationships. Another positive outcome of these cross-cultural matching is that it benefits not only the mentees but also provides mentors with a wider perspective of the immigrant cultures to promote social inclusion and healthy intercultural relationships. This has had a considerable impact on the native communities by counteracting and resisting xenophobic prejudices and stereotypes, which is very important in the context of the emergence of the right-wing and extremist political parties across Europe. European communities are more aware of intercultural relationships through real experiences with immigrant people.

Another noteworthy outcome from this research on the youth initiative mentoring approach is in the context of their social networks. One of the major problems faced by immigrant youth, unaccompanied minors, and refugees is that they lack natural social networks in Europe once they arrive. For example, the Africans and Moroccans who are escaping from their countries and migrating to Spain do not have their families around. Mentoring programmes and practitioners often say that they want to change the traditional, clinical approach of mentoring to an empowerment approach, which is the youth initiative mentoring. However this mentoring is not effective in all cases as it only benefits those who already have social networks in their new homes. And it certainly does not help those young immigrants who do not have a pre-existing network of support. Through evidence suggest that youth initiative mentoring works, this research was mostly focused in the US for youth under 18 years, the social structure of these young immigrants in Europe is drastically different.

Europe is also experiencing an explosion of mentoring programmes targeting adult immigrants and refugees. These programmes are mentoring them for work and social inclusions in their new countries to help them settle in this new context. Mentoring can provide these refugees and asylum seekers the mental and emotional support they need as they have to go through challenging regulatory, administrative, and bureaucratic processes. There have been cases where these people are homeless and cannot go home due to lack of access to housing facilities or being denied refugee status.

But what are mentoring programmes doing to support these refugees and asylum seekers? It is important to note that mentoring acts as informal support and must be supplemented with formal and legal support. The support which these refugees and asylum from the state is not enough and mentoring is great complimentary support. Youth mentoring and social mentoring aim to do exactly that, provide an additional level of informal support. A good example would be supported in finding jobs or accommodations since refugees find it very challenging to do these on their own as they might have difficulties demonstrating the ability to pay rent or stand out during job interviews. In such cases, mentors can accompany the mentees to help to look for an apartment. They need the trust and companionship which these mentors can provide to the newly arrived immigrants and refugees. Furthermore, European communities have low expectations of these people when it comes to them looking for jobs and finding work. They are mostly able to work in the agricultural sector or other low-level jobs which can be disempowering these immigrants who might have much more to offer. If one was to have an egalitarian dialogue with them, it can be found out that they have open needs and expectations for themselves. Therefore, these migrants will need to be provided the space and initiatives to establish different job possibilities fitting to their skills and expectations.

And why do we need to conduct new research into the impacts of social mentoring and youth mentoring in Europe? This is mainly because existing mentoring research is focused on the US context which is aimed at different types of the population such as the colored and the Latinos who face different challenges and require different mentoring support with different impacts. So there is a need for evidence in the context of mentoring in Europe. Refugees and migrants arriving in Europe are not only escaping tough economic situations but also escaping from violence and conflicts at their homes.

Oscar has conducted several studies into the impacts of social mentoring. One of these studies “What type of impact could social mentoring programmes have? An exploration of the existing assessments and a proposal of an analytical framework” conducted a review of scientific literature to investigate the effects of mentoring on youth at risk of social exclusion and other vulnerable groups. You can find this research here.

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