Southwest Key Programs

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Southwest Key Mentoring Works to Improve Outcomes for Youth in Five States

Photo of mentee with their mentor

Southwest Key Programs is a nationally accredited nonprofit organization that has served youth and families for 30 years, with the mission of opening doors to opportunity so individuals can achieve their dreams. The organization was established in 1987 with the specific aim of providing community-based services as an alternative to detention and long-term incarceration for youth involved in the juvenile justice system. Southwest Key operates 87 youth and family support and treatment programs, children’s shelters and community engagement programs nationwide including programs in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New York, Texas, and Wisconsin, serving thousands of individuals each year. Their programming combines the concepts of case management, crisis intervention, intensive monitoring and supervision, youth development, and family involvement to create a holistic approach to youth support services.

Mentoring Model

The Southwest Key Programs Youth Mentoring Model was established in 2012 in partnership with the Travis County Juvenile Probation Department in Texas to serve at-risk youth. In 2013, the program expanded to California to serve the Santa Clara Juvenile Probation Department. In 2014, multistate funding from OJJDP allowed Southwest Key to further expand and provide both one-on-one and group mentoring to system-involved, at-risk and underserved youth in five sites across the United States, including Atlanta, Georgia; Austin, Texas; Buffalo, New York; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and San Jose, California. Today, the Southwest Key Multistate Mentoring Program demonstrates that caring adult relationships, along with the structured support of trained case managers, can have a positive impact on school attendance, while helping to decrease youth involvement in delinquent behaviors. The program’s target population is juvenile justice system-involved youth, and/or youth (male or female) who are identified as at-risk or high risk for involvement in the juvenile justice system between the ages of 10 and 17.

The program’s goals are to provide mentoring services for at-risk, high risk or underserved youth in five states, implement and enhance evidence-based practices for youth mentoring, reduce negative outcomes, and strengthen protective factors for youth served. To this end, the program seeks to prevent first time or further involvement in the juvenile justice system for youth served, improve school attendance, engage parents and caregivers in program services, and refer or link youth and families to community resources.

To meet the needs of at-risk youth, Southwest Key seeks to recruit both staff and mentors who are genuinely interested in changing the lives of youth and families forever. Staff are degreed and have at least two years of experience or volunteer work serving at-risk or system-involved youth and families. Mentors come from all walks of life. Some have no prior experience mentoring at-risk youth but display a genuine desire to contribute as a mentor. Southwest Key also seeks to ensure that staff and mentors are reflective of the ethnic and racial diversity of the clients served.

Culturally Relevant Mentoring

Since a large percentage of Southwest Key’s youth engaged in mentoring identify as Latino and African-American, the organization has incorporated culturally relevant practices from the organizational level to the programming level. Southwest Key Programs’ Board is led by a Latino chairperson and is 100% comprised of people of color. Staff and mentors receive extensive cultural training and support, which show them how to honor mentees’ cultural backgrounds and practices, embody cultural humility, and communicate and engage with youth, parents, and families effectively. Recently, Southwest Key presented on a National Mentoring Resource Center webinar for OJJDP Grantees about best practices for mentoring Latino youth, where they shared insights and recommendations based on their 30 years of practice. Southwest Key notes that the core values of being responsive, innovative, diverse, and maintaining excellence, as well as their emphasis on familia and fun, guide their daily work.

Outcomes for Juvenile Justice System-Involved and At-Risk Youth

The outcomes of Southwest Key’s Youth Mentoring Program are described this way by an active mentee in Austin, Texas: “Being with my mentor has changed the way I think and made me a more positive person. It’s a creative environment, and it’s just an experience to learn and to be yourself. One thing my mentor has taught me that will change me forever is to enjoy who you are and remember your qualities. He does that for himself, and he does that for me as well.” Southwest Key’s 2016 performance data show that 182 youth received structured individual and group mentoring services paired with 170 caring adult mentors across their five mentoring sites. All youth and families also receive case management services from paid staff experienced in working with system‐involved youth. The majority of Southwest Key’s matched mentor/mentee pairs have been together for over six months, and many have reached or are near 12 months together.

In a year’s time, over 4,000 hours of mentoring have taken place during over 1,500 in‐person contacts and activities. Of the 182 youth served during the reporting period, 32% were system‐involved and the remaining were identified as at‐risk or high risk for involvement in the juvenile justice system at the start of the program. At the conclusion of their involvement in the program, 87% of the mentored youth were offense-free while 78% maintained or increased school attendance.

Southwest Key identifies its greatest accomplishment as the impact its mentors and staff have on the youth and families they serve. In 2017 two of Southwest Key’s mentees will be going to college as the first of the organization’s mentored youth to do so. Both of these youth were able to overcome barriers to college access with the help of committed mentors, who have engaged them in productive, educational, fun, pro-social activities. Mentoring relationships like these illustrate the connectedness of Southwest Key’s mentors and mentees.

Connections to Evidence-Based Practice

The Southwest Key Youth Mentoring Program has incorporated the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring, including screening, training, matching, monitoring and support, and closure. In addition, they incorporate motivational interviewing, trauma-informed practices and culturally relevant approaches. These techniques are built into staff and mentor trainings to ensure that the programming delivered is aligned with these best practices.

Next Steps for Southwest Key

Southwest Key plans to strengthen its mentoring model by providing gender-specific mentoring to at-risk and system-involved girls. Since girls’ involvement in the juvenile justice system is on the rise, Southwest Key has identified gender-specific mentoring as a key next step for its programming. Southwest Key is currently developing a Mi Hermana’s Keeper Toolkit to help inform its programs’ approach to working with at-risk girls. Additionally, Southwest Key plans to incorporate parent trainings and support into its mentoring model as it seeks to further engage parents and caregivers.

Southwest Key has received training and technical assistance from the National Mentoring Resource Center (NMRC) for all of their mentoring sites through webinars and phone consultations. The NMRC has provided numerous resources and insights on recruitment, group mentoring, training mentors, and how to properly conclude the mentoring relationship.