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[Excerpt] Since the mid-1990s, Congress has supported legislation to establish structured mentoring programs for the most vulnerable youth. The Department of Justice’s Juvenile Mentoring Program (JUMP), the first such program, was implemented in 1994 to provide mentoring services for at-risk youth ages 5 to 20. The purpose of contemporary, structured mentoring programs is to reduce risks by supplementing (but not supplanting) a youth’s relationship with his or her parents. Some of these programs have broad youth development goals while others focus more narrowly on a particular outcome such as reducing gang activity or substance abuse, or improving grades. Research has shown that mentoring programs have been associated with some positive youth outcomes, but that the long-term effects of mentoring on particular outcomes and the ability for mentored youth to sustain gains over time are less certain.

Although there is no single overarching policy today on mentoring, the federal government has supported multiple mentoring efforts for vulnerable youth since JUMP was discontinued in FY2003. In recent years, two mentoring programs—the Mentoring Children of Prisoners (MCP) program and Safe and Drug Free Schools (SDFS) Mentoring program—have provided a significant source of federal funding for mentoring services. However, the programs were short- lived: funding for the MCP program, carried out by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) since FY2003, was discontinued as of FY2011; and funding for the SDFS program, carried out by the Department of Education (ED) since FY2002, was discontinued as of FY2010.

The federal government currently funds mentoring efforts through short-term grants and initiatives. Many of these grants are carried out by the Department of Justice (DOJ), which has allocated funding for multiple mentoring programs, including mentoring for certain vulnerable youth and research on mentoring. In addition, the federal government has provided funding to programs with vulnerable youth that have a strong, but not exclusive, mentoring component. Youth ChalleNGe, an educational and leadership program for at-risk youth administered by the Department of Defense, helps to engage youth in work and school, and leadership opportunities. Adult mentors assist enrolled youth with their transition from the program for at least one year. Finally, federal agencies coordinate on mentoring issues. The Federal Mentoring Council was created in 2006 to address the ways agencies can combine resources and training and technical assistance to federally administered mentoring programs, and to serve as a clearinghouse on mentoring issues for the federal government. The council has been inactive in recent years but federal agencies, including the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Justice, are collaborating to reconvene the council.

This report begins with an overview of the purpose of mentoring, including a brief discussion on research of structured mentoring programs. The report then describes the evolution of federal policies on mentoring since the early 1990s. The report provides an overview of the federal mentoring initiatives that are currently funded. Note that additional federal programs and policies authorize funding for mentoring activities, among multiple other activities and services. These programs are not discussed in this report. The report concludes with an overview of issues that may be of interest to Congress. These issues include the limitations of research on outcomes for mentored youth, the potential need for additional mentors, grantees’ challenges in sustaining funding, and the possible discontinuation of federal mentoring funding. The Appendix includes a description of two federal mentoring programs that were funded until FY2010 and FY2011.


Suggested Citation
Fernandes-Alcantara, A. L. (2015). Vulnerable youth: Federal mentoring programs and issues (CRS Report R34306). Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

A more recent version of this report can be found here: