The Journal of Primary Prevention

, Volume 38, Issue 1–2, pp 49–66 | Cite as

Mentoring Relationships and the Mental Health of Aboriginal Youth in Canada

  • David J. DeWit
  • Samantha Wells
  • Tara Elton-Marshall
  • Julie George
Original Paper


We compared the mentoring experiences and mental health and behavioral outcomes associated with program-supported mentoring for 125 Aboriginal (AB) and 734 non-Aboriginal (non-AB) youth ages 6–17 participating in a national survey of Big Brothers Big Sisters community mentoring relationships. Parents or guardians reported on youth mental health and other outcomes at baseline (before youth were paired to a mentor) and at 18 months follow-up. We found that AB youth were significantly less likely than non-AB youth to be in a long-term continuous mentoring relationship. However, AB youth were more likely than non-AB youth to be in a long-term relationship ending in dissolution. AB youth were also more likely than non-AB youth to have been mentored by a female adult. AB youth were significantly more likely than non-AB youth to report a high quality mentoring relationship, regular weekly contact with their mentor, and monthly mentoring activities. Structural equation model results revealed that, relative to non-mentored AB youth, AB youth with mentors experienced significantly fewer emotional problems and symptoms of social anxiety. These relationships were not found for non-AB youth. Our findings suggest that mentoring programs may be an effective intervention for improving the health and well-being of AB youth.


Mentoring Relationships Aboriginal youth Mental health 



The authors would like to thank Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada and the local BBBS agencies for supporting this study. This research has been funded by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (MOP 81115 and MOP 130435).

Compliance With Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to report.


  1. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. (2013). Aboriginal demographics from the 2011 National Household Survey. Ottawa, ON: Planning Research and Statistics Branch.Google Scholar
  2. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada. (2014). Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada National Learning Center.
  3. Blechman, E. A. (1992). Mentors for high-risk minority youth: From effective communication to bicultural competence. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 21(2), 160–169. doi: 10.1207/s15374424jccp2102_8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bombay, A., Matheson, K., & Anisman, H. (2009). Intergenerational trauma: Convergence of multiple processes among First Nations peoples in Canada. Journal of Aboriginal Health, 5(3), 6–47.Google Scholar
  5. Brown, L. (2014). Kids in far-flung towns get help from mentors thousands of kilometers away. Retrieved January 13, 2016 from:
  6. Byles, J., Bryne, C., Boyle, M. H., & Offord, D. R. (1988). Ontario Child Health Study: Reliability and validity of the general functioning subscale of the McMaster Family Assessment Device. Family Process, 27(1), 97–104. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.1988.00097.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Chandler, M. J., & Lalonde, C. E. (2008). Cultural continuity as a moderator of suicide risk among Canada’s First Nations. In L. Kirmayer & G. Valaskakis (Eds.), Healing traditions: The mental health of Aboriginal peoples in Canada (pp. 221–248). British Columbia: University of British Columbia Press.Google Scholar
  8. Clark, N. (2012). From rites to resiliency: Growing up strong. Rites of passages. Ottawa, ON: Vanier Institute for the Family.Google Scholar
  9. Connor, K. M., Davidson, J. R. T., Churchill, L. E., Sherwood, A., Foa, E., & Weisler, R. H. (2000). Psychometric properties of the social phobia inventory (SPIN). British Journal of Psychiatry, 176, 379–386.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Crooks, C. V., Chiodo, D., Thomas, D., & Hughes, R. (2010). Strength-based programming for First Nations youth in schools: Building engagement through healthy relationships and leadership skills. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8(2), 160–173. doi: 10.1007/s11469-009-9242-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. DuBois, D. L., Portillo, N., Rhodes, J. E., Silverhorn, N., & Valentine, J. C. (2011). How effective are mentoring programs for youth? A systematic assessment of the evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 12(2), 57–91. doi: 10.1177/1529100611414806.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Ensher, E. A., & Murphy, S. E. (1997). Effects of race, gender, perceived similarity, and contact on mentor relationships. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 50, 460–481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Evans, D. (2010). Mentoring Aboriginal youth. (Master of Arts), Alberta: Athabasca Athabasca.Google Scholar
  14. Goodman, R. (2001). Psychometric properties of the strengths and difficulties questionnaire. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40(11), 1137–1145. doi: 10.1097/00004583-200111000-00015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Graham, J. W. (2009). Missing data analysis: Making it work in the real world. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 549–576. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.58.110405.085530.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Grossman, J. B., & Rhodes, J. E. (2002). The test of time: Predictors and effects of duration in youth mentoring relationships. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30(2), 199–219. doi: 10.1023/A:1014680827552.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Herrera, C., DuBois, D. L., & Grossman, J. B. (2013). The role of risk: Mentoring experiences and outcomes for youth with varying risk profiles. New York, NY: A Public/Private Ventures.Google Scholar
  18. Herrera, C., Sipe, L., & McClanahan, W. S. (2000). Mentoring school-age children: Relationship development in community and school-based programs. Philadelphia, PA: Public/Private Ventures.Google Scholar
  19. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. (2009). A demographic and socioeconomic portrait of Aboriginal populations in Canada. Ottawa: Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians.Google Scholar
  20. King, G. (2009). Urban Aboriginal children in Canada: Building a solid foundation for prosperity and change. In Aboriginal children’s health. Leaving no child behind. Canadian supplement to the state of the world’s children (pp. 37–45). Toronto, ON: Canadian UNICEF Committee.Google Scholar
  21. King, M., Smith, A., & Gracey, M. (2009). Indigenous health part 2: The underlying causes of the health gap. The Lancet, 374, 76–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kirmayer, L. J. (1994). Suicide among Canadian Aboriginal peoples. Transcultural Psychiatric Research Review, 31, 3–58. doi: 10.1177/136346159403100101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kirmayer, L., Simpson, C., & Cargo, M. (2003). Healing traditions: Culture, community and mental health promotion with Canadian Aboriginal peoples. Australasian Psychiatry, 11(Suppl. 1), S15–S23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kirmayer, L. J., Brass, G. M., & Tait, C. L. (2000). The mental health of Aboriginal peoples: Transformations of identity and community. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 45, 607–616.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Klinck, J., Cardinal, C., Edwards, K., Gibson, N., Bisanz, J., & Da Costa, J. (2005). Mentoring programs for Aboriginal youth. Pimatisiwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health, 3(2), 110–130.Google Scholar
  26. La Greca, A. M. (1999). Social anxiety scales for children and adolescents. Manual and instructions for SASC, SASC-R, SAS-A (adolescents) and parent versions of the scales. Miami, FL: Author.Google Scholar
  27. Lederer, J., Basualdo-Delmonico, A., Spencer, R., & Wasserman, R. (2009). Barriers, bumps, and bridges: How cultural differences shape the youth mentoring process over time. Paper presented at the The 137th American Public Health Association Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, PA.Google Scholar
  28. McCammon, S. L. (2012). Systems of care as asset-building communities: Implementing strengths-based planning and positive youth development. American Journal of Community Psychology, 49, 556–565. doi: 10.1007/s10464-012-9514-x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. McGuire, J. B. (1997). The reliability and validity of a questionnaire describing neighborhood characteristics relevant to families and young children living in urban areas. Journal of Community Psychology, 25(6), 551–566. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1520-6629(199711)25:6<551:AID-JCOP5>3.0.CO;2-S.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. McLearn, K. T., Colasanto, D., & Schoen, C. (1998). Mentoring makes a difference: Findings from the Commonwealth Fund 1998 Survey of Adults Mentoring Young People. New York, NY: The Commonwealth Fund.Google Scholar
  31. Meyerson, D. A. (2013). Mentoring youth with emotional and behavioral problems: A meta-analytic review. (Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)), DePaul University. Retrieved from
  32. Miller, A. (2011). Best practices for formal youth mentoring. In T. D. Allen & L. T. Eby (Eds.), The Blackwell handbook of youth mentoring: A multiple perspective approach (pp. 307–324). Malden, MA: Wiley.Google Scholar
  33. Muthen, L. K., & Muthen, B. O. (2011). M-plus. Statistical analysis with latent variables. User’s guide. Version 6.11. Los Angeles, CA: Author.Google Scholar
  34. Najman, J. M., Williams, G. M., Nikles, J., Spence, S., Bor, W., O’Callaghan, M., et al. (2001). Bias influencing maternal reports of child behavior and emotional state. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 36(4), 186–194.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Ning, A., & Wilson, K. (2012). A research review: Exploring the health of Canada’s Aboriginal youth. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 69(2), 158–167. doi: 10.3402/ijch.v71i0.18497.Google Scholar
  36. Petawabano, B., Gourdeau, E., Jourdain, F., Palliser-Tulugak, A., & Cossette, J. (1994). Mental health and Aboriginal people of Québec. Montréal: Gaëtan Morin Éditeur.Google Scholar
  37. Place, J. (2012). The health of Aboriginal people residing in urban areas. Prince George, BC: National Collaborating Center for Aboriginal Health. University of Northern British Columbia.Google Scholar
  38. Portman, T. A. A., & Garrett, M. T. (2005). Beloved women: Nurturing the sacred fire of leadership from an American Indian perspective. Journal of Counselling and Development and Psychopathology, 3(3), 284–291. doi: 10.1002/j.1556-6678.2005.tb00345.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D Scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1(3), 385–401. doi: 10.1177/014662167700100306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Rhodes, J. E. (2005). A model of youth mentoring. In D. L. DuBois & M. J. Karcher (Eds.), Handbook of youth mentoring (pp. 30–43). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Rhodes, J. E., Reddy, R., Roffman, J., & Grossman, J. B. (2005). Promoting successful youth mentoring relationships: A preliminary screening questionnaire. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 26(2), 147–167. doi: 10.1007/s10935-005-1849-8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Richmond, C. A. M., Smith, D., & The Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health. (2012). Sense of belonging in the urban school environments of Aboriginal youth. The International Indigenous Policy Journal, 3(1). doi: 10.18584/iipj.2012.3.1.1.
  43. Robertson, L. (2006). The residential school experience: Syndrome or historic trauma. Pimatisiwin, 4, 1–28.Google Scholar
  44. Sanchez, B., Colon-Torres, Y., Feuer, R., Roundfield, K. E., & Berardi, L. (2013). Race, ethnicity, and culture in mentoring relationship. In D. L. DuBois & M. J. Karcher (Eds.), Handbook of youth mentoring (pp. 145–159). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication.Google Scholar
  45. Sinclair, R., & Pooyak, S. (2007). Aboriginal mentoring in Saskatoon: A cultural perspective. Saskatoon: Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre in collaboration with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Saskatoon and the Community University Institute for Social Research.Google Scholar
  46. Statistics Canada. (2013). Aboriginal peoples in Canada: First Nations people, Metis and Inuit, National Household Survey, 2011. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.Google Scholar
  47. Tannis, D. (2006). Mentoring in Saskatoon: Toward a meaningful partnership. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: Community-University Institute for Social Research.Google Scholar
  48. Vandenberghe, C. (2013). Mentoring: A review of the literature. Calgary, AB: Alberta Centre for Child, Family & Community Research for Alberta’s Promise.Google Scholar
  49. Waddell, C., Sheppard, C., Schwartz, C., & Barican, J. (2014). Child and youth mental disorders: Prevalence and evidence-based interventions. Vancouver, BC: Children’s Health Policy Centre, Simon Fraser University.Google Scholar
  50. Waldram, J. (1997). The Aboriginal people of Canada: colonialism and mental health. In I. Al-Issa & M. Tousignant (Eds.), Ethnicity, immigration, and psychopathology (pp. 169–187). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  51. Wesley-Esquimaux, C., & Smolewski, M. (2004). Historic trauma and Aboriginal healing. Ottawa: Aboriginal Healing Foundation.Google Scholar
  52. Wilson, J. (2010). Kinnections mentoring program for youth: Program policy and procedures template for engaging youth in mentorship. British Columbia: Ministry of Children and Family Development.Google Scholar
  53. Zand, D. H., Thomson, N., Cervantes, R., Espiritu, R., Klagholz, D., LaBlanc, L., et al. (2009). The mentor-youth alliance: The role of mentoring relationships in promoting youth competence. Journal of Adolescence, 32, 1–17. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2007.12.006.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • David J. DeWit
    • 1
  • Samantha Wells
    • 1
  • Tara Elton-Marshall
    • 1
  • Julie George
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Mental Health Policy ResearchCentre for Addiction and Mental HealthLondonCanada

Personalised recommendations