Methodological study design Research Article Critique

1. Methodological study design: Identify the research design. Is it adequate for this evaluation? In what way does it support any causal inference the authors are trying to show? What are the specific threats/biases to internal or external validity this design poses? Based on the authors’ discussion, could the study be replicated?2. Presentation of data analysis and findings: Does the data analysis approach meet the needs or purpose of this investigation? Are the findings explained clearly and logically in view of the study’s research questions and hypotheses
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Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal
Volume 18, Number 2, April 2001
Mentoring At-Risk Latino
Children and Their Parents:
Impact on Social Skills and
Problem Behaviors
Theresa Barron-McKeagney, Ph.D.,
Jane D. Woody, Ph.D., and Henry J. D’Souza, Ph.D.
ABSTRACT: The Family Mentoring Project, which provided approximately
one year of mentoring for at-risk 10-year old Latino children and their parents, aimed to provide not only service but empirical evaluation of the program’s impact. This University-community partnership offered individual
mentoring, a group educational component for children and parents, and
group social/recreational activities. A pre- and post-test analysis of 11 nonmentored and 20 mentored youth revealed positive gains on social skills for
mentored children as reflected in self-ratings and mothers’ ratings on the Social Skills Rating Scale (SSRS). Also based on the SSRS, mothers reported
decreases in three problem behaviors for mentored children. In addition, by
Theresa Barron-McKeagney is an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work,
University of Nebraska at Omaha. She served as faculty consultant and later as faculty
coordinator of the Family Mentoring Program (FMP). Jane D. Woody is a Professor in
the School of Social Work at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and was the initial
faculty coordinator of the FMP. Henry J. D’Souza is an Associate Professor in the School
of Social Work at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and was a faculty consultant
with the FMP. Address correspondence to Theresa Barron-McKeagney, Ph.D., School of
Social Work, University of Nebraska at Omaha, Omaha, NE 68182-0293; e-mail: theresa@unomaha.edu.
The Family Mentoring Program (FMP) began in November, 1995, as part of a larger
U. S. Office of Education Grant (CFDA 84.252A), which partnered the College of Public
Affairs and Community Service, University of Nebraska at Omaha, with various segments of the community in an effort to address youth violence. The FMP received new
funding in October 1997, as part of a grant from the U. S. Office of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD 1044), awarded to the College of Public Affairs and Community
Service, University of Nebraska at Omaha. The present research study covered the
initial funding period of January 1996 to November 1997. For their hard work and
dedication to the FMP, the authors thank the Community Coordinator, Alberto Cervantes, and student interns Ann Barker, Susan Davis, Cindy Klein, Carmen Ridenour, Eric
Stec, Engracia Jimenez, Carol Rick, and graduate assistants Heather Tingelhoff, and
Brett Phillips.
119
? 2001 Human Sciences Press, Inc.
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CHILD AND ADOLESCENT SOCIAL WORK JOURNAL
post-testing, the mentored children and their mothers compared very favorably with the SSRS standardized samples on both skills and problem behaviors. The findings suggest that bicultural competence may be fostered by programs that provide consistent and long-term mentoring, involve the children’s
families, include group educational components, and bring families and mentors together for social/recreational events.
KEY WORDS: Latinos; At-Risk Behavior; Mentoring; Children.
During the past decade youth mentoring has become a topic of growing interest in education and the human services. Mentoring programs have largely targeted adolescents and teens, usually minorities
(Balcazar, Majors, Blanchard, & Paine, 1991; Blechman, 1992; Payne,
Cathcart, & Pecora, 1995; Roberts & Cotton, 1994); those at risk of
school dropout (Blum & Jones, 1993; Slicker & Palmer, 1993); those
in foster care (Payne et al., 1995; Mech, Pryde, & Ryecroft, 1995);
those at risk of drug abuse (LoSciuto, Rajala, Townsend, & Taylor,
1996); and teen mothers (Rhodes, 1993; Zippay, 1995).
Mentoring is essentially a process aimed at strengthening an individual at risk through a personal relationship with a more experienced and caring person. Through shared activities, guidance, information, and encouragement, the individual gains in character and
competence and begins setting positive life goals. Mentoring can help
the person to get on a successful life track, specifically, by preventing
premature derailment that often comes with school dropout or
involvement with drugs, crime, and violence (Flaxman, Ascher, &
Harrington, 1988; Freedman, 1991; Blechman, 1992).
In spite of the rapid expansion of mentoring programs for “at risk”
or low-achieving youth, studies have offered little empirical documentation for the effectiveness of mentoring and the benefits to participants. A recent comprehensive review of evaluations of youth development programs noted the “paucity of high quality outcome evaluations
of programs fitting the youth development framework” (Roth, BrooksGunn, Murray, & Foster, 1998). Blechman (1992) believes that mentoring programs should have goals that translate to success for atrisk youth and should conduct research using multiple methods and
multiple respondents for evaluating the effectiveness of mentoring.
The following brief review of evaluation studies that focus specifically
on mentoring will allow for clarification of the intervention and evaluation goals of the present study.
Blum and Jones (1993) relied on teachers’ evaluations of the progress shown by 22 seventh- and eighth-grade students (at risk of drop-
T. BARRON-MCKEAGNEY, J. D. WOODY, AND H. J. D’SOUZA
121
ping out) who participated in a school-based mentoring and peer
group counseling program. The mentoring component consisted of
daily contacts by various types of school personnel who served as mentors, and the group consisted of 8 to 10 weekly sessions that focused
on improving academic performance, study habits, and interpersonal
skills for the school setting. Teachers completed the evaluation form
for students at the beginning and end points of the eight-week group
counseling experience. Based on evaluations by teachers, but without
any statistical analysis, students in the program were judged to have
improved in promptness to, and preparation for, class; quantity and
quality of daily assignments; classroom participation, behavior, and
interaction with peers; and report card grades. More significant improvements were claimed for students whose mentors were actively
involved with them, although, again, no statistical support was offered
for this claim. The brief discussion concluded that absences continued
to be a major problem but that the group and mentoring program can
be helpful to students at risk of school dropout.
Roberts and Cotton (1994) evaluated a mentoring program for 11th
grade African-American students (30 boys and 46 girls) in which mentors provided one hour per week of contact that focused on providing
practical advice and motivation, setting goals, and evaluating academic performance. After three months, the mentored group compared with a control group (students with less than one month of
mentoring), achieved a non-significant higher mean score on school
self-esteem, but there were no differences in global self-esteem and
grade point average. The authors concluded that future evaluation of
mentoring efforts should include a longer experimental period and
give close attention to variables expected to be sensitive to mentors’
influence.
In a study of a six-month long, school-based mentoring program for
22 at-risk 10th grade students, Slicker and Palmer (1993), comparing
a control and the experimental group on dropout rate, self-concept,
and academic achievement, found no significant differences. Further
analysis of effectively mentored (E, n = 9) vs. ineffectively mentored
(I, n = 13) students revealed that the E group showed a trend toward
a lower dropout rate, an improvement in academic achievement approaching significance (p = .06), but no differences in self concept. The
authors emphasized that future programs and evaluations should
monitor students’ entry characteristics and the integrity of the mentoring, and should target younger children.
A large-scale study of Big Bothers/Big Sisters (Grossman & Tierney,
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CHILD AND ADOLESCENT SOCIAL WORK JOURNAL
1998) conducted an evaluation of the effect of 18 months of mentoring
on 571 youths ages 10 to 16. The study included a variety of measures,
some of which seem to be more reliable and valid than others, but did
not elaborate on measures and data collection. Based on youths’ selfreports, those in the program, compared to controls, were 46% less
likely to start using illegal drugs and 27% less likely to start using
alcohol, with minority youths showing greater benefits with regard to
drug use. Program youth also reported less hitting, but no differences
for times sent to the principal’s office, damaging or stealing property,
doing “risky” things, fighting, cheating on tests, or using tobacco.
Again, based on self-reports, program youth earned moderately higher
grades, had half as many school absences, skipped fewer classes, and
felt more competent about doing schoolwork. While mentored youth
reported better relationships with parents and peers, they had no
gains in self-concept or participation in social and cultural activities.
A strong empirical evaluation of a year-long, multi-faceted mentoring program for 562 “high-risk” sixth-grade students focused primarily on substance abuse and related factors, self-perception, well-being,
and attitudes (LoSciuto, Rajala, Townsend, & Taylor, 1996). The majority of students were African-American (52%), and mentors were
older adults (55 +) who were supposed to spend four hours per week
with students in a variety of activities. Other program components
included a 26-session classroom life skills curriculum, community service activities to benefit the frail elderly, and workshops for parents.
Analysis centered on a control group (C), a group who completed only
the life skills program and parent workshops (PS), and a group which
had the added component of mentoring (MPS). Seven of eleven measures showed significant or marginally significant differences among
groups. On these seven measures the MPS group scored better than
the C group on six measures: attitude toward school, future, and elders; attitude toward older people; knowledge of older people; reactions to situations involving drug use; community service; and frequency of substance use. The MPS group also had significantly fewer
school absences than the other two groups. The authors concluded
that interventions in multiple domains are critical for success, including family, peers, school, and neighborhood and that adult relationships are important in the lives of young people.
Of the studies reviewed above, only that of LoSciuto et al. (1996),
using several extant instruments, offers convincing empirical documentation for the effectiveness of mentoring with an at-risk group.
The group that had both mentoring and other program components
T. BARRON-MCKEAGNEY, J. D. WOODY, AND H. J. D’SOUZA
123
achieved the most gains, especially in terms of positive attitudes, appropriate reactions to drug use, and fewer school absences, but no differences appeared in regard to stress reactions, self-perception, problem solving efficacy, and well-being.
The present study remedies some of the limitations of prior evaluations in using standardized measures, offering a longer intervention,
obtaining entry characteristics of both children and families, and monitoring the extent of mentoring and other involvement in the program.
This report focuses on two of several outcome measures—social skills
and problem behaviors—as indicators of the effectiveness of a mentoring program for young at-risk Latino children. This federally funded
model program, in addition to offering service, conducted extensive
empirical evaluation of the program’s effectiveness. Reported elsewhere are evaluations of the program’s effect on student self-concept
and school performance (Barron-McKeagney, Woody, & D’Souza,
1999b) and on the parent child relationship and family strength (Barron-McKeagney, Woody, & D’Souza, 1999a).
Background of the Family Mentoring Program (FMP)
The Family Mentoring Program was unique in several ways. It targeted young ten-year-old children. It aimed to include parents in some
activities. It was a long-term project with the goal of offering approximately 18 months of mentoring for the youth. It targeted a transitional, at-risk neighborhood that had been under-served by community programs. It focused on community partnerships and was based
in a neighborhood agency, the Chicano Awareness Center (CAC),
rather than in schools, and it served primarily Hispanic youth whose
parents were often recent, non-English speaking immigrants. The
FMP was coordinated by the University School of Social Work. A
newly hired bilingual Latino community coordinator and two student
interns initially implemented the project under the supervision of a
campus-based faculty coordinator and two faculty consultants.
The goal of the mentoring program was twofold: to increase children’s effective participation in a variety of positive community activities, including school life; and to increase parents’ participation in
community services that would improve their parenting abilities. The
assumption was that beyond mentoring, participation in community
life offers “protective factors” that can decrease risk, e.g., for involvement in violence, drugs, and gangs (Garmezy, 1985). In addition to
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CHILD AND ADOLESCENT SOCIAL WORK JOURNAL
individual mentoring for the children, the program sponsored group
educational and social/recreational/volunteer activities for both youth
and their parents and offered referral and case management as
needed.
The FMP sought referrals of children to the program through personal contacts with, and information provided to, community partners
in the neighborhood—churches, social service agencies, and schools.
Recruitment continued for approximately 9 months. Since it was a
new program being offered in a locale and to families not accustomed
to social services, time was needed to disseminate information, gain
the trust of parents, and carry out the tasks of clarifying the program,
enrolling children, and doing assessment and case management.
Method
Participants
The participants consisted of 49 children from an area in Omaha, Nebraska, which had been designated as high risk due to multi-ethnic
diversity, socioeconomic factors, crime, and youth violence. Included
were 21 males (43%) and 28 females (57%); ages at the time of enrollment ranged from 8.7 to 11.8 (M = 9.95, SD = 0.77), with school grade
placement as follows: third (12, 25%), fourth (18, 37%), fifth (14, 29%),
sixth (5, 10%).
The racial make-up was as expected: Latino, 82%, Caucasian, 10%,
African-American, 4%, Native American, 2%, Other, 2%. The youth
came from families in transition: 63% of children had been born in the
United States, while 37% had been born in Mexico. Regarding the
primary spoken language: for children, it was English for 76% and
Spanish for 24%; but for mothers, English as a primary language
dropped to 41% and Spanish rose to 59%. Religious denomination was
Catholic, 74.5%; Protestant, 10.6%; none 12.8%; and other, 2.1%.
Family demographics focused on mothers: 61% were married; 22%,
divorced; and 14%, single-never married. The majority of mothers
were Hispanic (74%) and 63% had been born in Mexico. Regarding
employment, 55% of mothers were employed outside of the home, only
14% received aid to dependent children, and of those employed, a large
majority (79%) worked in service or factory/labor jobs. Thirty-nine per-
T. BARRON-MCKEAGNEY, J. D. WOODY, AND H. J. D’SOUZA
125
cent had 6 or fewer years of education, and only 25% had finished
high school.
Measures
Several types of measures were used to assess the children and their
mothers. A detailed family information form asked for basic demographic characteristics, the child’s and parent’s community involvement, problems, and use of resources. School grades and attendance
record were obtained from each child’s permanent record that the
school system provided.
Standardized inventories were also used. Of interest in this study,
the Elementary Level Social Skills Rating Scale (SSRS) provided a
measure of children’s social skills, which are “socially acceptable,
learned behaviors that enable a person to interact effectively with others and to avoid socially unacceptable responses” (Gresham & Elliot,
1991, p. 1). The child’s form of this 34-item self-report assesses: Cooperation, Assertion, Empathy, and Self-control. The 55-item parent
form assesses: Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, and Self-control
and three types of problem behaviors—Externalizing, Internalizing,
and Hyperactivity. Based on the standardization sample, reliability
for the Social Skills Scale is .90, and .84, for the Problem Behaviors
Scale; numerous studies support its validity.
Mentor activity reports logged the date, length of time spent, and
type of activity for each of the individual mentoring contacts with the
child—in-person and phone calls. These were used to determine the
number of hours of mentoring that the participants received. Staff
kept logs of children’s and mothers’ participation in group educational
and social/recreational activities, which provided the number of hours
that children and mothers spent in these activities.
Procedures
Assessment. Children and their mothers completed the measures at
the beginning of enrollment in the program and at the end of the mentoring project. Staff met with them, either in their homes or at the
CAC, in order to obtain all the information needed for program evaluation. These meetings entailed explaining why the information was
needed, signing consent and release forms, and often translating and/
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CHILD AND ADOLESCENT SOCIAL WORK JOURNAL
or reading aloud various questions, inventories, scales, and other important information.
Intervention. The primary intervention was individual mentoring.
Mentors were recruited through the same neighborhood churches and
from local colleges and universities. A total of 26 mentors received
training and were matched with children. Ranging in age from 18 to
42, two-thirds of the mentors were female. Thirteen were Caucasian,
11 Hispanic, and 2 African-American. Almost two-thirds of the mentors worked in clerical or higher level positions; the remainder were
in service/sales/technical support jobs. Nearly one-fourth were college
students, and twelve spoke both English and Spanish.
Mentors received six to eight hours of training, which was provided
by the faculty consultants, program staff, and other community practitioners with expertise in selected areas. Staff arranged an initial
meeting for parents and children to meet their assigned mentors. This
was done as a brief social group activity, or individually when necessary. Children and mentors exchanged contact and schedule information. Mentors had to arrange to pick up children, usually at their
homes, but occasionally at the CAC, and return them. They encountered numerous, mostly unavoidable, barriers to setting up and maintaining regular mentoring contacts, e.g., the family’s lack of phone
service, lack of parental transportation, difficulty reaching families
due to long working hours or re-locations, and family and child problems requiring professional interventions.
A variety of mentoring activities was suggested: going to a park,
zoo, museum, library, play, movie, sporting event, etc.; playing a
sport; doing errands together; visiting the child’s school, especially for
special events; visiting in the mentor’s home for helping with homework, reading, playing games, cooking, having a meal, etc.; remembering the child on special holidays or birthdays with a card, activity,
small gift, or a phone call; acknowledging the child’s achievement on
school …
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