The positive impact of mentoring on the lives of young people is at the heart of an insightful new report from Extern, which has been launched at a special event in Belfast.

‘Above and Beyond’ examines Extern’s relational approach to youth mentoring, and highlights the unique approach which it takes to supporting young people who are living within the care system and/or are seeking support with training and employment. The report has been compiled by Dr Gail Neill and Dr Mark Hammond from the Centre for Youth Research and Dialogue at Ulster University, and was launched to an audience of key professionals and partners from the youth work sector at UU’s Belfast campus.

The report involved input from dozens of staff and young people with first-hand experience of mentoring. They were given the opportunity to articulate their views across a number of focus group sessions, with data then being analysed to generate themes.

Among the key insights provided by the study were that:-

  • Extern has an approach to mentoring which was seen to go ‘above and beyond’ the boundaries of typical mentoring models and remits of their funders.
  • This ‘above and beyond’ approach played a crucial part in in supporting young people more effectively as it communicated a genuine sense of care and value.
  • Extern’s holistic approach to attending to the wider needs of each young person (e.g. food, safety, accommodation etc) was just as essential in supporting young people as was meeting the official goals of the mentoring programme.

Extern currently operates two mentoring-focused projects. Moving Forward, Moving On offers support to people aged 16-24 who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) with finding opportunities and gaining qualifications.

The Mentoring (Children Looked After) project is a community-based programme supporting young people aged between 10-17 who are ‘looked after’ within the care system to develop skills, improve relationships and maximise potential.

Alarming statistics

Latest statistics from the Department of the Economy have shown that there were around 18,000 young people classed as NEET in Northern Ireland from April to June 2023. Meanwhile, figures from the Department of Health showed that at March 31st, 2022, 3,624 children and young people were in care in Northern Ireland, the highest number recorded since the introduction of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.

Informative insights into mentoring

Extern Programme Manager Caroline Rutherford said: “This report is a fantastic resource for our mentoring services, as it offers important insights into the work we do and the positive impact this has on young people we support.

“When it comes to evaluating our work there is no greater voice than that of the young people themselves, and to be able to hear at first hand their thoughts and feelings about the work we do is not only encouraging for our wonderful frontline teams, but proves that the value of this kind of work can also be felt on a very personal, human level.

“Viewed alongside the statistics of young people in care in Northern Ireland and the numbers of people who are not in education, employment or training, it also shows just how crucial mentoring services are in offering a level of support to young people, many of whom have been impacted so negatively by the Covid-19 pandemic, the ongoing cost of living crisis and the financial cutbacks to local services and budgets.

“We would like to thank Dr Gail Neill and Dr Mark Hammond for their excellent work on this report and for their sensitive and professional approach to working with our young people and staff in gathering the information and presenting it in such an articulate and insightful way.”

Dr Gail Neill from Ulster University said: "The Centre for Youth Research and Dialogue at Ulster University conducted research into the ways in which youth mentoring was implemented in Extern."

"The focus was to better understand the processes and stages of mentoring; to identify what young people valued from these engagements; and what mentors considered as measures of success."

"The findings illuminate a unique 'Above and Beyond' approach to youth mentoring which manages to combine informal relational approaches with action orientation and goal setting."

Report co-author Dr Mark Hammond said: “It was great to be involved in this piece of research. The findings show that Extern have a tangible commitment to mentoring young people and supporting them to develop despite their circumstances.”

To download a copy of the ‘Above & Beyond’ report, please visit