Natural mentoring relationships among survivors of caregiver childhood abuse: findings from the Add Health Study


childhood abuse, trauma, adult outcomes, natural mentoring, relationship characteristics


Social support promotes resilience to adverse childhood events, but little is known about the role of natural mentors—caring, nonparental adults—in the lives of childhood abuse survivors. The current study draws from a large, longitudinal, nationally representative sample (Add Health) to examine the prevalence and characteristics of natural mentoring relationships for adolescents with a history of caregiver childhood abuse, and the extent to which these relationships are associated with psychological and health outcomes in adulthood. Among the sample (n = 12,270), 28.82% and 4.86% reported caregiver childhood physical and sexual abuse, respectively. Youth who reported caregiver childhood physical abuse were more likely than those who did not endorse abuse to report having a natural mentor, but their mentoring relationships were characterized by lower interpersonal closeness, shorter duration, and less frequent contact. Exposure to caregiver childhood abuse was associated with adverse outcomes during adulthood, including antisocial behavior, physical health limitations, and suicidality; the presence of a natural mentor did not buffer the negative impact of trauma on adult outcomes. However, longer mentoring relationships during adolescence buffered the strength of the association between both caregiver physical and sexual abuse during childhood and suicidality during early adulthood.

Original Publication Citation

Weber Ku, E.B., Hagler, M.A., Parnes, M.F., Schwartz, S.E., Rhodes, J.E. and Erickson, L.D. (2020), Natural mentoring relationships among survivors of caregiver childhood abuse: findings from the Add Health Study. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci..

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor