Brock report sheds light on support programs for student parents

A new public report by researchers in Brock University’s Department of Child and Youth Studies sheds light on a pilot program that provides mentorship support to student parents.

The program pairs mentors recruited by Big Brothers Big Sisters with student parents who receive support from Strive Niagara for high school programming and childcare.

“Participating in a mentoring program takes considerable commitment, and more so with individuals who may be struggling,” notes Sandy Toth, Executive Director of Strive Niagara, adding that she values the efforts of both the mentors and mentees.

The pilot program was first developed by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Niagara Falls (BBBSNF) in partnership with Strive Niagara, and later expanded into the Welland area by Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Niagara (BBBSSN) staff.

Barb Van Der Heyden, Executive Director of BBBSNF and Interim Executive Director of BBBSSN, believed it was important to obtain an impartial and thorough analysis of the program.

“Big Brothers Big Sisters of Niagara Falls recognizes the importance of being able to measure outcomes for all programs our agency offers to our community, and especially for a pilot program,” she said.

Professor Rebecca Raby, Associate Professor Christine Tardif-Williams and then-master’s student Amber Varadi carried out the study with funding support from Brock’s Social Justice Research Institute and the United Way.

“It is valuable to engage with initiatives that are happening on the community level as it deepens ties between Brock and the Niagara region,” said Raby.

The team held multiple interviews with student parents, mentors and program staff between 2018 and 2019, completed their analysis and released a final report of their findings earlier this fall.

“It was a great experience interviewing student parents and learning about their lives,” said Raby. “It was very clear that the student parents face a number of different challenges linked to social inequality and how much they therefore benefit from support programs like Strive Niagara.”

Overall, the researchers found extensive value in the mentorship program, which provides much-needed support to an underserved population in Niagara and, as Tardif-Williams notes, “seems to hold the potential to improve the wellbeing of both student parents and their children.”

The report also outlined some ways in which the program could be refined in response to the feedback that the researchers collected.

“Some of the young mothers’ day-to-day challenges, such as lacking adequate housing, childcare and accessible mental health supports, can make the possibilities of developing or maintaining positive connections especially difficult,” said Varadi. “By bringing these forms of inequality to the surface, the report demonstrates where valuable supports are offered and where further necessary supports can be established.”

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