According to the research, these one-to-one matches are such a powerful force for influencing children's behavior because of Big Brothers Big Sisters' signature approach to mentoring.
A Big Brothers Big Sisters' match is carefully administered and supported by rigorous standards and trained personnel. Professional agency staff strive for matches that are not only safe and well suited to each child's needs, but also harmonious and built to last. That is why so much care is taken in screening and orienting volunteers, and then in matching them with children.
However, Big Brothers Big Sisters professionals are much more than just "matchmakers." They provide ongoing support and supervision to the Big, the Little, and the Little's family. They offer training and advice to help ensure that the match is satisfying and fulfilling for everyone involved.
Additionally, every Big Brothers Big Sisters agency subscribes to a uniform set of standards and procedures. They also receive ongoing training and consultation from the Big Brothers Big Sisters national office.
It is this web of support that helps maximize the likelihood that a Big Brothers Big Sisters relationship will "take root" and flourish. The research found, for example, that Big Brothers Big Sisters' matches consistently spend more time together, and continue as a match for longer periods, than do their peers in other mentoring programs Public/Private Ventures has studied.
"In mentoring programs without this infrastructure, we have found that relationships evaporate too soon for effects to be possible," said Walker.
The research found that Big Brothers Big Sisters offers a positive, broad-based program "that focuses less on specific problems after they occur, and more on meeting youths' most basic developmental needs."
The matches that were observed in the study shared everyday activities: eating out, playing sports or attending sports events, going to movies, sightseeing, doing chores, and just hanging out together.
What mattered to the children was not the activities, but the fact that they had a caring adult in their lives. Because they had someone to confide in and to look up to, they were, in turn, doing better in school and at home. The Littles were also avoiding violence and substance abuse at a pivotal time in their lives when even small changes in behavior, or choices made, can change the course of their future.
"The quality of the relationships Big Brothers Big Sisters has fostered for 100 years is the real strength behind our success," said Judy Vredenburgh, former CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. "Our volunteers are one of our most important assets. They make a tremendous commitment to their Littles, and now, we can point to this impact study and say, See, you are making a huge difference in the life of a child.'
"When Little Brothers and Little Sisters feel good about themselves, they positively impact their friends and families, their schools, and their communities. And as this important study has shown, these young people believe in themselves because a Big Brother or Big Sister believed in them."
Making a Difference: An Impact Study of Big Brothers Big Sisters (1995) was the culmination of a four-part series on Big Brothers Big Sisters. The first three reports were A Study of Program Practices (1993); A Study of Volunteer Recruitment and Screening (1994); and Building Relationships with Youth in Program Settings (1995).
Public/Private Ventures, a national research organization with more than 20 years of experience in studying child development and social service issues, conducted the independent research.
The study was funded by a $2 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, the Commonwealth Fund, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and an anonymous donor.