Mentoring for Youth in Foster Care

What if every youth in foster care had a consistent relationship with a supportive adult?

Photo of Sandra Woods
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Silver Lining Mentoring was founded in 2001 in Boston, Massachusetts by Justin Pasquariello. Justin was adopted out of foster care himself, and understands first-hand the need for youth in care to have a consistent adult mentor. To understand the needs of youth in foster care here is the story of Jacob, one of Silver Lining Mentoring’s mentees: It was 2:00 a.m., there was a knock on the door, Jacob was told to put his things in a trash bag and be ready to leave in 15 minutes. He did not know what was happening, where he was going, if he would see his siblings or parents again; everything was out of Jacob’s control. Imagine that scene repeating itself an average of once per year. That is the experience of youth in care. Youth are removed from their families of origin due to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse or neglect so severe they are in immediate danger. While placing youth in foster care solves one problem, it introduces another. Many youth live a rootless existence, moving to different homes, schools, and communities, cared for by strangers paid to provide for their needs. Silver Lining Mentoring believes that we thrive when we matter. By providing youth in care with committed, caring adult mentors we show them they matter and help them gain the sense of belonging they need to succeed.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Massachusetts

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Massachusetts

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]


Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

There are approximately 1,000 youth in Boston foster care. Youth in care change communities more frequently than their peers, disrupting healthy development. A report by The Boston Foundation shows the risk factors for youth who left foster care without permanent family placements. Of the young adults that were interviewed: • 25% had been arrested • 37% experienced homelessness • 43% had been pregnant or gotten someone pregnant • 54% were unemployed • 59% exhibited signs of depression Silver Lining Mentoring addresses these chronic issues by providing youth with committed adult mentors. Research shows that youth with mentors are over 50% more likely to graduate high school, 40% more likely to be employed, and 25% less likely to be in a gang (DuBois & Silverthorn, 2005). Through mentoring youth gain the sense of belonging and support they need to thrive.

Silver Lining Mentoring empowers youth in foster care to flourish through committed mentoring relationships. We are the only mentoring organization in Massachusetts that focuses exclusively on youth in foster care. We create a community of consistent, adult support for youth in foster care, enabling them to build the self-confidence, essential life skills, and emotional well-being they need to thrive. Our mentoring relationships last an average of 4.6 years, over six times the national average reported by other mentoring organizations. Clinically-trained social workers provide intensive, individualized support to each mentor/mentee match, helping them navigate challenges and serving as resource brokers for additional services when necessary. By providing youth with a long-term mentor and consistent clinical support Silver Lining Mentoring creates the sense of belonging youth need to succeed.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Other

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Child and Family Services

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages, and has demonstrated success)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

This reflection was shared by one youth about her long-term mentor, who she met at age 11: “When I first heard about Silver Lining Mentoring I refused to have anything to do with them. The first time I talked to Mel she spent 45 minutes on the phone with me. (Boy was she determined). One thing Mel didn't know was that she passed my test - most people would have given up at the 5-minute mark. Over the course of our relationship Mel went from a stranger, to great friend, to mentor, and now, the best of all, FAMILY. She has done so much for me to keep me on track and to encourage me to keep moving forward.” We are proud of the sense of belonging we are creating for youth in foster care and the outcomes we are helping them to achieve.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

In 2015 we served 75 youth through our mentoring program. Youth showed the following outcomes: • 83% improved their ability to communicate feelings and ideas. • 88% acquired a stronger sense of belonging within a healthy community. • 100% had positive peer relationships. • 100% reported having a mentor they can trust. • 100% showed improvements in self-esteem. • 100% improved their ability to set and achieve goals. We aim to significantly increase the number of youth we serve; growing to support 95 youth in 2016, 125 youth in 2017, and 160 in 2018. Research shows that the positive effects of mentoring grow stronger the longer a relationship continues. We hope that by bringing in more youth ages 7-12 we will be able to promote long-term, multi-year relationships that will generate positive outcomes for more youth impacted by foster care in Greater Boston.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $1mil - $5mil

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We ensure sustainability through careful resource allocation, investment in high-quality staffing, and a diverse revenue portfolio. We have multi-year funding partnerships with The Cummings Foundation, Social Venture Partners, and the United Way. We also host an annual fundraising gala, participate in a charity bike ride each fall, and receive support through the John Hancock Non Profit Program for the Boston Marathon.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Silver Lining Mentoring is the only mentoring organization in Massachusetts that works exclusively with youth in care. We provide intensive, individualized support to our mentor/mentee matches. Our team of clinical social workers is well prepared to work with youth in foster care because they are trained to understand youths’ needs and behaviors in the context of each individual’s experiences with abuse, trauma, and neglect. Intensive individualized support is one of the reasons our mentoring relationships last 4.6 years, over six times the national average.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Culturally responsive services are critical. “In society afflicted by racism, children of color have a difficult task when it comes to developing a positive racial identity. They must reconcile conflicting messages about who they are and their value in a society that grants privilege to white skin and devalues people with darker skin.” Building a positive sense of self is crucial. For youth with marginalized identities, particularly youth of color or LGBTQ youth, having adults who share aspects of their identity helps a child build a positive sense of self and work against systemic oppression.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

A Silver Lining Mentoring Board Member passed it along through an email she received from an individual at Boston University.

Program Design Clarity

* We serve youth impacted by foster care in Greater Boston. * Our main activities are the recruitment, and screening of mentors (ongoing), training of mentors (every other month), matching mentors and mentees (ongoing), mentor/mentee outings (8 hours/month), group events for mentor/mentee matches (every other month), and intensive clinical support and resource brokering by social workers (ongoing). *All mentors are volunteers, mentor screening, training, and support is facilitated by clinically-trained social workers.

Community Leadership

Youth are our stakeholders. Each one fills out an intake form saying what gender, race, ethnicity, and/or sexual orientation they would prefer in a mentor. We use this feedback to best match youth and mentors, increasing the chances for a strong, long-term mentoring relationship. Mentors help youth build the communication skills and self-esteem they need to be leaders and advocates for their communities as they get older.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

SLM is a thought leader in the fields of mentoring and child welfare, and approached by agencies looking to create mentoring programs for youth in care. As a result, we help shape service delivery far beyond the current boundaries of our programs. SLM actively seeks opportunities to share best practices, learn from like-minded organizations, and facilitate community dialogues to improve children’s well being beyond our community.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

Foster care is marked by instability and short-term relationships, leaving youth without a sense of belonging. Providing youth with a committed, consistent, long-term mentor, and the support of the larger Silver Lining Mentoring community, creates a sense of belonging for youth in care. Our commitment to recruiting mentors from diverse backgrounds also provides youth with relatable role models to nurture a positive self-identity.

Leadership Story

Colby Swettberg, our CEO, began her career as a teacher. While in education Colby was most drawn to the youth who were struggling, often due to factors outside the classroom. Following this passion, she became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Colby is a tireless advocate for both foster youth and LGBTQ issues. She helped open the nation’s first group home for LGBTQ youth in foster care. She joined the Silver Lining Mentoring team in 2009. Colby is relentless in her work to support more youth in care through mentoring relationships, more than tripling the number of youth SLM serves.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

Silver Lining Mentoring was honored to be named a 2014 Social Innovator by the Social Innovation Forum, selected as an organization with an innovative approach to one of Greater Boston's most pressing social problems.

Organization's Twitter Handle


Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)

Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)

Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 25%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 75%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 0%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 0%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 75%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 25%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 0%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 25%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 25%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 50%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 0%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 50%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 50%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 0%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 100%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 100%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 50%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 50%

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Margaret Fink

This program seems to be fantastic and helping a group of children that many times do not receive the special attention they need in which to thrive. It would be interesting to know if this program could be replicated to be provided in other cities and/or states.