Expanding, Replicating and Evaluating an Innovative Youth Development Program

Dates of Project: August 2005–February 2013

Friends of the Children provides long-term, relationship-focused mentoring to children facing very high risk of developing behavioral and health problems, such as delinquency, academic failure, and teen parenthood. Children enter the program in kindergarten and receive 12 years of intensive, individualized guidance from full-time, salaried mentors.

Description: Between August 2005 and February 2013, RWJF provided three grants totaling some $2.2 million to support the expansion, replication, and evaluation of the model. Friends of the Children used one of its grants to build organizational capacity and the second to provide supplementary support for a rigorous evaluation of the model (the Child Study), funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from 2008 to 2013. The third grant also supported the Child Study and was awarded to the study’s research team, based at the Oregon Social Learning Center.

Key Results/Findings

  • Between 2008 and 2013, the Friends of the Children strengthened operations at five chapters through fund raising and infrastructure improvements. By 2013, Friends of the Children employed 114 mentors and served over 760 children in over 250 schools in five cities (Boston; New York; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; and Klamath Falls, Ore.). About half of these children were served from the Portland, Ore., site.

  • To date, the Child Study has found no difference between children who participated in the Friends program and those who did not.  Using data on the initial two years of the 12-year program, researchers assessed 278 children, who were six when they entered the study. They found no differences between intervention and control groups with respect to child strengths and psychopathology, academic achievement, or school-reported behaviors (e.g., absenteeism, tardiness, suspensions).

    Given that problems in these areas do not manifest for most children until adolescence, the researchers were not surprised by the lack of short-term impact. They continue to maintain contact with study participants and plan to apply for another NIH grant to assess the program’s impact on the children as they become adolescents.

  • A local evaluation of the Portland, Ore., chapter found evidence that for participants who remained in the program for 12 years:

    • 85 percent earned a high school diploma or GED despite the fact that over 50 percent had a parent who did not complete high school.
    • 97 percent were not involved in the juvenile justice system, although 60 percent had at least one parent who has been incarcerated.
    • 98 percent avoided early parenting, although 60 percent were born to a teen parent.

Share this

In 2013 Friends of the Children served 760 kids in 5 cities & is a promising service for high-risk families