Critical Autonomy, Social Capital and Mentoring Programmes for Children and Youth
Òscar Prieto Flores
In recent decades, the number of youth mentoring programmes has grown considerably in different countries around the world. The reasons that have favoured this increase depend on the context. In the case of Europe, for example, this increase is due to the need to provide a response to the new context of reception of immigrants and refugees, many of them unaccompa- nied minors or young people; while in the United States, the approach has been aimed more at reducing social inequality and preventing crime among minority youth (Preston, Prieto-Flores, & Rhodes, 2019). Regardless of the programmes’ approach, their increase in recent years has led to some debates on how mentoring organisations can improve the quality of their programmes and promote, more fully, the well-being and empowerment of the children and young people they serve. In this regard, it should be pointed out that their empowerment can only be understood if they are able to develop greater critical autonomy and access to networks of social capital. Doyal and Gough (1991) defined critical autonomy as “the capacity to com- pare cultural rules, to reflect upon the rules of one’s own culture, to work with others to change them and, in extremis, to move to another culture” (pp. 187–188), which requires the capacity for freedom of agency, political freedom, and freedom of action. And, as we know, even in the most demo- cratic countries, such freedoms are compromised by the existence of struc- tural forces that, explicitly or implicitly, constrain them, especially among young people from cultural minorities, migrant youth who lose their legal status as they turn 18 and become “adults”, as well as young people with low incomes. With regard to social capital, there are a number of definitions that will be addressed later, but one vague and initial definition would be the possibility of attaining certain social resources through occasional or recur- rent support from individuals or social institutions. Generally, the research that has been done on youth mentoring has been carried out in the field of psychology in the United States. It is not surprising, then, that the focus of the studies conducted thus far and the analysis of the effects of mentoring have taken into account elements of analysis characteristic of this field; for example, the effects that mentoring has on the emotional support of the child or young person, on their health and well-being, or on their academic engagement. These elements have been central in much of the research that has been done up to the present and are part of the main corpus of the most recent meta-analyses (DuBois et al., 2011; Raposa et al., 2019). Another element that has been taken into consideration is the duration of mentoring relationships and their quality, stressing that longer-lasting and quality mentoring relationships are those that tend to have greater effects on protégés (Deutsch & Spencer, 2009; Rhodes & DuBois, 2006). However, the theoretical contributions that highlight how mentoring programmes can facilitate access to networks of social capital have been very embryonic, with some exceptions (Keller & Blakeslee, 2014; Prieto-Flores & Feu, 2018; Stanton-Salazar, 2011). In this regard, more empirical studies that take this into consideration are beginning to emerge, like the work of Shier, Gouthro, and de Goias (2018), which highlights some existing interrelations between social capital and a mentoring programme with minority girls between ages 14 and 17. The authors conclude that the programme they analysed promotes access to the social capital of the protégés and enables their social networks to expand through the relationships they had with their mentors and other agents. Another example is the work of Raithelhuber (2019), who analyses the support that a mentoring programme can offer to unaccompanied refugee minors in Austria, highlighting how minors perceive the ethnic discrimi- nation they suffer and how their mentors can provide them with emotional and psychosocial support and enhancement of their social capital. It is necessary to study this area in depth in order to observe all the different types of relations that can arise between a mentor and his protégé, and how mentoring organisations may, or may not, play an important role in promoting these at micro, meso and macro-level.
Dr. Òscar Prieto-Flores is an Associate Professor at the University of Girona, Spain. He obtained his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Girona in 2007 and was Visiting Scholar in 2006 of the Center for Migration and Development at Princeton University and in 2012 of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford University. He has also collaborated at the Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring at the University of Massachusetts since 2017 with his research. By 2021 Dr. Oscar Prieto Flores became a coordinator of the Master of Migration Movements at XXI century: Concepts, Realities and Evidences. He is currently studying what paths lead students of ethnic and immigrant background in Spain but also in Europe on a college track, where he is the main investigator. At the same time, he coordinates with his friend and colleague, Jordi Feu, the Nightingale project at the University of Girona, a mentoring project with children and youth of immigrant background and collaborating with Roma NGOs and social movements.