An effective community-based mentoring program for return to work and school after brain and spinal cord injury

Authors: Kowalske, K., Plenger, P. M., Lusby, B., & Hayden, M., E.
Year Published 2012
Publication NeuroRehabilitation
Volume 31
Number 1
Pages 63-73
Publisher IOS Press

Individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI), spinal cord injury (SCI), and other neurological disorders often have severe disabilities impacting their ability to return to previous activities and return to work is limited. There is an ongoing need for education and vocational rehabilitation systems to work together to improve outcomes for youth and young adults with disabilities.


The purpose of this article was to present information on a community-based mentoring program for young adults, ages 16 - 26 years with a recently acquired TBI, SCI, and other neurological disorders. The two objectives of this study were to 1) to demonstrate continuing increased in standardized measures of community integration from the time of enrollment in the program to the time of exit, and 2) improve the percentage of youth and adults who successfully access post-secondary education or employment opportunities.


The setting was various community sites in California.


The study sample included 131 individuals with TBI, SCI, or other neurologic disabilities recruited between 2005 and 2010. The majority were individuals with TBI or SCI with one individuals dually diagnosed with TBI and SCI (0.8%) and 8.4% with other disabilities to include other neurological disabilities. The majority were male (67.9%). The mean age was 20.3 years. Participants were primarily Hispanic (42%) or Caucasian (36.3%) with the remaining Asians (10.7%) or African American (4.6%). In addition, there were 121 trained "mentors" who were a minimum of two years post injury and had "a high level of acceptance and successful integration into the community". This included working or post-secondary education. Most were working (57%) while 30% were attending school, and 13% were retired.

Data Collection

Assessment was conducted a minimum number of four times: at enrollment, three months after entry, and every three months thereafter until attempted entry to post-secondary education or employment. In addition, each mentor and mentee completed a questionnaire which documented satisfaction with the relationship. Finally, the program used standardized assessments to include the Disability Rating Scale to include Employability and Level of Functioning, the Participation Index of the Mayo-Portland Adaptability Inventory, version 4, the Supervision Rating Scale, the Craig Handicap Assessment and Reporting Technique Short Form, and the Diener Satisfaction with Life Scale. A successful transition was as the individual remained in the post-secondary education or employment environment.

Data were collected by mentors and project staff. Formal assessments were collected by trained research assistants. Mentors submitted meeting logs documenting when, where, and topics discussed. Data were stored in an Access database and descriptive and inferential analyses were conducted using SPSS. Pre and post test program scores on standardized outcome measures were compared by paired T-tests.


No comparison condition.


A total of 89 mentees were successfully matched with community-based mentors and participated in the program through to completion. Of this number 77 completed the entire program. Of this number 42 (54.5%) were considered program successes and 35 (45.5%) were considered program failures. Of the 42, 69% returned to school and 13 became employed (31%). For program successes, significant CHART subscale increases were seen for Cognitive Independence and Mobility. For program "failures" no statistically significant changes were seen in CHART subscale scores. For program successes, there were also significant improvements seen in the M2PI, the DRS, and SRS. For failures there were improvements seen in DRS but these were not statistically significant.


Overall, findings suggest that mentoring can be beneficial toward achieving the goals of post-secondary education, employment and community independence for individuals with disabilities; specifically those with traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury and other neurological disorders.

Disabilities Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
Populations Transition-age youth (14 - 24) | Hispanic or Latino | Asian | Black / African American | White / Caucasian | Male & Female
Outcomes Employment acquisition | Other
NIDILRR Funded Yes
Research Design Observational
Peer Reviewed Yes