Date of Conferral





Social Work


Susana Verdinelli


Emancipated foster youth are at risk for increased rates of unemployment, low educational attainment, reliance on public assistance, substance abuse, behavioral issues, homelessness, unplanned pregnancies, and illegal activities. Lack of connection to a caring adult when exiting foster care and emancipated foster youth's inadequate independent living skills are critical factors that could place young people at risk. Prior studies have shown that mentoring is a means of providing foster youth with protection against psychological stress and promoting well-being; however, mentoring is not a widely used intervention in the child welfare system. There is limited research on the process of implementing natural mentoring in child welfare agencies. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand the implementation of natural mentoring in child protection agencies and to explore the types of support or organizational climates beneficial to natural mentoring intervention. Keller's systemic model of youth mentoring and social convoy theory provided the theoretical framework for this study. Participants were 10 child protection workers in New Jersey recruited through purposeful sampling who participated in face-to-face, semistructured interviews to produce qualitative data, subsequently analyzed and interpreted using thematic analysis. Four significant themes emerged: (a) natural mentoring is beneficial, (b) implementing natural mentoring occurs formally and informally, (c) supervisory support is dominant, and (d) challenges and strategies surface. The findings of this study have the potential to provide child welfare workers and policy makers with support in implementing natural mentoring practices for older foster youth at risk of aging out of foster care, resulting in positive social change.