Providing closure when mentoring relationships end

Follow these tips for supporting healthy match closure in youth mentoring.

Formal mentoring relationships are unique in that it is expected that they will end. Mentoring programs cannot assume responsibility for a match forever, and when a program stops assuming responsibility for a match the match closes. Preparing a match for closure early on helps increase the odds of the closure process being one that is positive for everyone involved.

Many times, there are strong emotions involved with closure. Mentors, mentees and sometimes parents can feel sad, hurt, relieved, angry, happy or confused when the relationship comes to an end. Addressing closure early and throughout the relationship is one way to increase the chances that the closure process is healthy for the young person and the mentor.

Matches close for a variety of reasons. Planned closure happens if the match has fulfilled the commitment, if the mentee has reached the maximum age, or for a variety of other reasons that provide time to create a closure plan. Unplanned closure occurs when there is conflict between the mentor and mentee or the mentor and parent, when rules have been broken, when one party ends communication with the other, when there is an unexpected health or family issue or when someone has to move unexpectedly. In many cases, unplanned closure is sudden and confusing for the other party and the program staff.

Regardless of whether the closure is planned or unplanned, steps can be taken to ensure that the process is as supportive as possible. First, open communication between all stakeholders is required. Mentoring staff will usually take the lead in preparing for closure, but mentors, parents and youth should all be open to sharing their feelings and needs when it is time for the relationship to end. A closure plan may involve tapering off visits over a period of time, conversations with the young person that explain the need for closure and discussions about what closure means. All parties need to consider whether future contact is desired, and if so, at what frequency.

Finally, a closure meeting is recommended. Closure meetings bring all parties together to reflect on accomplishments, difficulties and the overall experience. A final outing can provide an opportunity for celebration and reflection. Closing outings vary based on interests and personalities. Some popular choices include going out for dinner or to a concert, creating a match scrapbook together or writing an article about their experience for a newsletter. The key is providing an opportunity for processing the experience.

Closure meetings can be difficult, and sometimes impossible, to arrange when the closure is unplanned. Closure can bring up intense feelings and mentors and mentees are unlikely to want to attend if they are feeling like they failed or if they are disappointed or sad. If a mentor can or will not attend, the mentoring staff needs to meet with the young person to process the relationship and his or her feelings.

Michigan 4-H Youth Development has a resource sheet to assist mentoring staff in their efforts to facilitate positive closure. To learn more about why mentoring relationships end early and how to prevent this, please refer to MENTOR’s Issue 5 in the Research In Action series.

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