Big Brothers Big Sisters' one-to-one youth mentoring has been shown to have a significant and positive impact on the lives of children, according to the first-ever nationwide impact study of a mentoring organization.
During 1992 and 1993, Public/Private Ventures, a Philadelphia-based national research organization, looked at 959 boys and girls, ages 10 to 16, through Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies in Phoenix, Ariz.; Wichita, Kan.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Rochester, N.Y.; Columbus, Ohio; Philadelphia, Pa.; and Houston and San Antonio, Texas. The agencies were selected for their large size and geographic diversity.
Of the young people taking part in the study, more than 60 percent were boys, and more than 50 percent were minorities. Most came from low-income households, and many lived in families with histories of substance abuse and/or domestic violence.
Approximately one-half of the children were matched with a Big Brother or Big Sister. The others were assigned to a waiting list (control group). The children were randomly assigned to one group or the other.
The matched children met with their Big Brothers or Big Sisters about three times a month for an average of one year.
Researchers interviewed the Littles, the children who were not matched, and their parents on two occasions: when they first applied for a Big Brother or Big Sister, and again 18 months later.
Researchers found that after 18 months of spending time with their Bigs, the Little Brothers and Little Sisters were:
- 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs
- 27% less likely to begin using alcohol
- 52% less likely to skip school
- 37% less likely to skip a class
- more confident of their performance in schoolwork
- one-third less likely to hit someone
- getting along better with their families
Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteers had the greatest impact in the area of alcohol and substance abuse prevention. For every 100 youth between ages 10 and 16 who start using drugs, the study found, only 54 similar youth who are matched with a Big will start using drugs. Minority boys and girls were the most strongly influenced; they were 70 percent less likely than their peers to initiate drug use.
"We have known all along that Big Brothers Big Sisters' mentoring has a long-lasting, positive effect on children's confidence, grades, and social skills," said Judy Vredenburgh, Big Brothers Big Sisters' former President and CEO, "and the results of this impact study scientifically confirm that belief."
"These dramatic findings are very good news, particularly at a time when many people contend that 'nothing works' in reaching teenagers," Public/Private Ventures President Gary Walker added. "This program suggests a strategy the country can build on to make a difference, especially for youth in single-parent families."