The demand for child mental health services, including those provided by psychologists, counselors, and social workers, exceeds the supply. This trend is expected to continue or worsen unless there are substantial structural changes in how mental health services are provided. We propose a framework for paraprofessional youth mentors, defined as a subgroup of professionally supervised, non-expert volunteer or paid mentors to whom aspects of professional helping tasks are delegated. Our proposal is aligned with historical and modern solutions to scaling mental health services, and this framework could simultaneously increase the number of youth receiving evidence-based mental health services and reduce the burden on existing systems of care. The framework defines three plausible tasks for paraprofessional mentors: (1) reducing barriers to mental health service, (2) increasing engagement in services, and (3) providing direct services. The safety and effectiveness of these task-shifting efforts will hinge on competency-based training and evaluation, supervision by professionals, and documentation of services rendered, all of which the field of youth mentoring currently lacks. We describe several requisite scientific, institutional, and regulatory advances that will be necessary to realize this variant of youth mentoring for a subgroup of youth who are presenting for assistance with mental health problems.
Keywords: Children’s mental health; Paraprofessionals; Task-shifting; Youth mentoring.
© 2021 Society for Community Research and Action.