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Programs that Work

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America


Program Info
Program Overview
Program Participants
Evaluation Methods
Key Evaluation Findings
Probable Implementers
Funding
Implementation Detail
Issues to Consider
Example Sites
Contact Information
Available Resources
Bibliography
Last Reviewed

 

Program Info

Outcome Areas
Healthy and Safe Children
Children Succeeding in School

Indicators
Youths not using alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs
Students performing at grade level or meeting state curriculum standards
Children and youth not engaging in violent behavior or displaying serious conduct problems

Topic Areas

     Age of Child
       Early Childhood (0-8)
       Middle Childhood (9-12)
       Adolescence (13-18)
     Type of Setting
       Community-Based Service Provider
     Type of Service
       Mentoring
       Youth Development
     Type of Outcome Addressed
       Behavior Problems
       Cognitive Development / School Performance
       Physical Health
       Substance Use and Dependence
       Violent Behavior

Evidence Level  (What does this mean?)
Proven

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Program Overview

Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) is a program that matches non-related mentors with children to promote positive development and social responsibility. In existence for more than a century, BBBS is composed of 440 agencies that served more than 220,000 youths across the country in 2005. The BBBS network comprises individual, independent agencies that adhere to very specific BBBS standards and criteria, yet may adjust the program to the specific and unique needs of their communities.

The mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters is to provide supportive relationships for young people to assist them in realizing their potential. The program has been shown to impact a variety of behavioral outcomes without providing a behavior-specific intervention or targeting a specific behavior (such as academic improvement, drug use, or violence). Rather, BBBS provides a design for a developmental mentoring program, focusing on providing participants with a positive, caring, and supportive role model.

In the traditional Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring model, the volunteer mentor commits to spending approximately three to five hours per week with the child for at least one year. Goals for the child are set with the BBBS staff during an initial interview held with the parent and child. A relatively new set of BBBS programs focus on establishing school-based mentoring programs. These programs differ from the traditional BBBS programs in that all contact between the mentor and the youth takes place within a school and in that they adhere to a different set of participant requirements. Owing to these adaptations, the BBBS school-based model seems to be opening the door to a wider range of participants among both volunteers and youth. Big Brothers Big Sisters in School, a mentoring program that takes place in a school environment and allows weekly breaks from regular programming for the child to take part in one-to-one activities with the mentor, now serves as many children as the traditional community program.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters program received a "proven" rating for the indicators Youths not using alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs, Children and youth not engaging in violent behavior or displaying serious conduct problems and Students performing at grade level or meeting state curriculum standards. See Issues to Consider below for further explanation.

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Program Participants

Targeted youth are typically between the ages of 6 and 18 and have associated risk factors, such as residence in a single-parent home or a history of abuse or neglect. In most instances, either a parent or guardian initiates contact with BBBS. Prior to acceptance into the program, youths undergo a screening process involving a written application, interviews with both parent(s) and child, and a home assessment. This process is intended to ensure that both child and parent are prepared and equipped to honor the high level of commitment required by the program. Youths participating in the school-based model undergo screening as well; however, because school personnel determine acceptance into the program, children whose parents lack the initiative or time to make contact with program staff are not excluded from eligibility.

Mentor participants undergo an extremely rigorous screening process designed to protect youths by identifying and screening out applicants who are unlikely to honor their time commitment or form positive relationships with youths or who pose a safety risk. After acceptance as a volunteer, mentors undergo orientation and training. The specific training requirements vary from site to site but typically involve discussions on program rules, match expectations, relationship building, match activities, and communication skills.

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Evaluation Methods

An experimental study design that evaluated the traditional BBBS program was developed by researchers at Public/Private Ventures (Tierney, Grossman, and Resch, 1995) in which youths were randomly assigned to a control or to a treatment group. The sample youths were between 10 and 16 years old; 60 percent were male and more than 50 percent were an ethnic minority. Nearly all lived with one parent, many were from low-income households, and a significant number had a prior history of family violence or substance abuse.

At the start of the study, the sample included 1,138 youths from eight BBBS agencies. Over an 18-month period, the research compared youths who participated in BBBS programs with those who did not. Both control and experimental groups were assessed at baseline and at the study’s conclusion via interviews on a range of outcomes, including academic outcomes, use of drug and alcohol, and conduct problems and violent behaviors. Of the 1,138 youths originally randomized to a control or experimental group, 959 (84.3 percent) completed the follow-up interview and were included in the study’s analysis. Analyses examined the BBBS programs’ effect on four demographic groups: boys, girls, whites, and minorities.

Herrera et al. (2007) conducted an evaluation of a school-based BBBS program, in which youths were randomly assigned to a treatment or a control group. The sample includes 1,139 youths who were in grades four to nine at the beginning of the 2004-2005 school year (i.e., the baseline), with 565 in the treatment group and 574 in the control group. Surveys were administered to teachers, youths, and (for the treatment group only) mentors at three time points: beginning of the 2004-2005 school year (baseline), end of first school year (first follow-up), and late fall of the second school year (second follow-up). Results are based on intent-to-treat analysis to examine whether offering youths the opportunity of BBBS program involvement affected student outcomes.

Additional studies by Public/Private Ventures (Furano et al., 1993; Roaf, Tierney, and Hunte, 1994; Morrow and Styles, 1995) provided descriptive accounts of program implementation, including the actual mentoring relationship, the relationship between the adult mentor and the youth, and the screening process and characteristics of the volunteers.

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Key Evaluation Findings

The results of these studies indicate that the broad developmental program model utilized by BBBS produces a range of positive quantifiable outcomes. The research by Tierney, Grossman, and Resch (1995) compared BBBS youths with nonparticipating youths. The authors reported the following:

With regard to antisocial behaviors, compared with control group youths,

  • BBBS youths were 46 percent less likely to initiate illegal drug use.

    • Analyzed separately, BBBS boys were 55 percent less likely to initiate illegal drug use.

      • When examined by racial/ethnic group, no significant differences were found for whites, but minority BBBS boys were 68 percent less likely to start using illegal drugs.
    • No significant differences were found for girls as a group, or for white girls as a subgroup. Minority BBBS girls were 73 percent less likely to initiate illegal drug use, a difference that was marginally statistically significant.
  • BBBS youths were 27 percent less likely to initiate alcohol use, a marginally significant difference.

    • Minority BBBS girls were 54 percent less likely to initiate alcohol use than were control group girls, a difference that was marginally significant.

      • No significant differences were found for either boys or girls as individual groups, or for minority boys or white boys or girls.
  • BBBS youths were 32 percent less likely to hit someone.

    • No significant differences were found for boys as a group or for minority boys as a subgroup. However, white boys in BBBS were marginally less likely to hit someone than were white boys in the control group.

    • Girls overall were less likely to hit someone, a difference that was marginally significant, but no significant differences were found for either minority girls or white girls as subgroups.
  • No significant effects were found for the BBBS group as a whole or for any of the subgroups for theft, property damage, involvement in fights, cheating on tests, being sent to the principal’s office, or smoking.


With regard to academic outcomes, compared with control group participants,
  • BBBS youths attained slightly higher grade point averages (GPAs), with average GPAs of 2.71 versus 2.63, a difference that was marginally significant.

    • No significant differences were found for boys as a whole, or for minority boys or white boys as subgroups.


    • Girls who participated in BBBS attained significantly higher GPAs than did the comparison girls, with an average GPA of 2.84 versus an average of 2.67.

      • Differences in GPAs were marginally significant for minority girls in BBBS, who had an average GPA of 2.83 compared with an average of 2.62 for control group girls.

      • No effects were found for white girls.
  • BBBS youths were 52 percent less likely to skip a day of school.

    • No significant differences were found for boys as a whole, or for minority boys or white boys as subgroups.

    • Girls who participated in BBBS skipped 84 percent fewer days of school than did control group girls.

      • Effects were significant for both minority girls (78 percent fewer days skipped) and white girls (90 percent fewer days skipped).

Results of the study by Herrera et al. (2007) indicated significant improvement in a range of school-related outcomes. The authors reported the following:

At the end of the first school year (first follow-up),
  • BBBS youths, relative to their peers in the control group, received significantly higher teacher ratings on

    • overall academic performance, with average ratings of 2.73 versus 2.62

    • quality of class work, with average ratings of 3 versus 2.89

    • number of assignments completed, with average ratings of 3.12 versus 2.98.
  • Differences between BBBS youths and control group youths were marginally significant for the teacher ratings on

    • performance in science, with average ratings of 2.84 for the BBBS group versus 2.73 for the control group

    • performance in written and oral language, with average ratings of 2.77 for the BBBS group versus 2.68 for the control group.
  • Teachers reported that, compared with their peers in the control group, a lower percentage of BBBS youths committed a serious school offense, including fighting, principal’s office visits, and suspensions in the past four weeks (14 percent for the treatment group versus 21 percent for the control group), and the difference was marginally significant.

  • Teachers reported that a lower percentage of BBBS youths had an unexcused absence in the past four weeks (12 percent for the BBBS group versus 18 percent for the control group), and the difference was marginally significant.

  • According to youth surveys, BBBS youths reported feeling better at doing their school work than their control group peers, scoring an average of 2.81 on the academic efficacy measure, compared with the average of 2.74 for the control group.

  • According to youth surveys, 11 percent of the BBBS youths reported having started to skip school, compared with 17 percent of their peers in the control group.

  • No significant differences were found between the BBBS and control groups for drug and alcohol use, misconduct outside of school, relationship with parents and peers, and self-esteem.

At the late fall of the second school year (the second follow-up), only one outcome was found to be statistically significant, and the rest of the outcomes that were found to have significant effects were no longer statistically significant. According to youth surveys, BBBS youths, compared with their control group peers, had a lower percentage of reporting to have started skipping school, with 20 percent for the BBBS youths versus 28 percent for the control group.

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Probable Implementers

To be formally designated a Big Brothers Big Sisters program, a local agency must adopt specific BBBS standards, with minor variations allowed to accommodate local characteristics. Possible implementers include community members or social service organizations, such as family service agencies.

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Funding

Big Brothers Big Sisters is traditionally funded through local fundraising efforts from the business, faith, and educational communities, as well as through private and public foundation support. The national average cost of making and supporting a match between a youth and an adult is approximately $1,000. Program cost varies depending on the agency and geographic location of the program.

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Implementation Detail

Program Design

  • Individual programs adhere to required Big Brothers Big Sisters national guidelines and standards.

  • Big Brothers Big Sisters requires extremely rigorous screening of its volunteers and youth.

  • Mentors undergo initial and continuing training to aid them in building a successful and supportive relationship.

  • Youth-mentor relationships are closely monitored by a Match Support Specialist during the first year of development.

  • Participation in the program requires a high level of personal commitment and commitment of time and energy.
Adult volunteers and youths are expected to make a substantial time commitment, agreeing to meet approximately three to five hours per week for at least one year. Rather than targeting specific problems or behaviors, BBBS focuses on developing the whole person. Participants are encouraged to address various issues and participate in a wide range of activities within a variety of settings. The goal is for a relationship to be forged, through which the mentor can provide support to the youth as he or she develops.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is predicated on extremely detailed and rigorous volunteer/youth screening, training, and matching practices and standards. In an effort to ensure effective matches, during the first year BBBS Match Support Specialists provide ongoing supervision of the mentor-youth relationship: They are required to contact mentors and youths and/or youths’ parents monthly. Beyond the first year, supervision requirements are reduced: BBBS Match Support Specialists are required to contact mentors and youths and/or youths’ parents four times yearly. These requirements are somewhat unique to BBBS when compared with several other current mentoring programs that give preference to more casual youth-mentor relationships that require far less screening and training, do not necessarily have prescribed standards regarding participant investment, and may not involve intense and rigorous relationship supervision.

The newer school-based BBBS program, Big Brothers Big Sisters in School, has slightly different participation requirements. Within the school-based model, all contact between a youth and his or her mentor must take place on school grounds. The constant direct supervision afforded by the school environment has made cross-sex matches a possibility and has permitted younger individuals to volunteer and to become mentors. In addition, the school-based model has a lesser time commitment: It requires that weekly meetings be one to two hours long and take place only during the academic school year. Even in the school setting, this model remains true to BBBS’s broad developmental focus: No greater stress is placed on academic-based interactions.


Curriculum

Big Brothers Big Sisters does not have a prescribed or "set" curriculum.


Staffing

Basic staff at each site includes a director, an administrative assistant, and functional staff providing customer relations, enrollment and match services, and match support. The program is staffed by a core of volunteer mentors.

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Issues to Consider

Based on the study by Tierney, Grossman, and Resch (1995), this program received a "proven" rating for the indicators Youths not using alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs and Juveniles not engaging in violent behavior or displaying serious conduct problems and a "promising" rating for the indicator Students performing at grade level or meeting state curriculum standards. The study employed rigorous standards in evaluating the program, including a randomized sample of nearly 1,000 youths. The significance and size of the effects of the program on the use of illegal drugs meet PPN proven evidence criteria, and the program’s effect on alcohol use was sizeable but at a lower significance level. The effects on the likelihood of BBBS youths hitting someone or on having a higher GPA than non-BBBS youths were marginally significant, and the size of the difference for the GPA outcomes was very small.

Based on the study by Herrera et al. (2007), this program received a "proven" rating for the indicators Juveniles not engaging in violent behavior or displaying serious conduct problems and Students performing at grade level or meeting state curriculum standards. The study employed rigorous standards in evaluating the program, including a randomized sample of over 1,000 youths. The significance and size of the effects of the program on academic performance and misconduct meet PPN proven evidence criteria. However, it is worth noting that attrition is substantial and non-random. At the first follow-up, the attrition rate was 6 percent, with 5.8 percent among the treatment youths and 6.8 percent among the control youths. Attrition analysis indicated that those who were not retained for the first follow-up were significantly needier at baseline than those who remained in the sample. The two groups differed on 27 characteristics at baseline. By the second follow-up, the analysis sample further decreased to 968 youths, with a 15 percent attrition rate (12.7 percent among the treatment youths and 17.3 percent among the control youths). Again, attrition analysis revealed non-comparable results between the youths who remained and those who left. While the substantial attrition could impose potential threat to the internal validity of the study, authors conducted baseline analysis and reported no significant differences between the treatment and control group at baseline.

It is important to note that findings from the study by Tierney, Grossman, and Resch (1995) are based on evaluations of the traditional BBBS mentoring model only. In contrast, Herrera et al. (2007) evaluated the newer school-based mentoring program.

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Example Sites

Houston, Texas; San Antonio, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Rochester, New York; Phoenix, Arizona; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Wichita, Kansas. (These sites are those included in Tierney, Grossman, and Resch, 1995.)

Columbus, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; Ellsworth, Maine; St. Louis, Missouri; Cleveland, Ohio; Oak Harbor, Washington; Dallas, Texas; Show Low, Arizona; Dalton, Georgia; and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (These sites are included in Herrera et al., 2007).

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Contact Information

Joseph Radelet
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
230 North 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Phone: (215) 567-7000
Fax: (215) 567-0394
national@bbbsa.org
http://www.bbbsa.org

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Available Resources

All of the following materials are available by contacting Big Brothers Big Sisters:

  • Community Needs Assessment and Feasibility Study Guide

  • Volunteer Education and Development Manual

  • Program Management Manual

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Bibliography

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America,  BBBS Standards of Practices for One to One Service: Big Brothers Big Sisters of America,  Philadelphia, Pa.: Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, 2003.  

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America,  What Will It Take to Achieve Significance by the Year 2001?  Philadelphia, Pa.: Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, 1996. 

Furano, K., P. A. Roaf, M. B. Styles, and A. Y. Branch,  Big Brothers Big Sisters: A Study of Program Practices,  Philadelphia, Pa.: Public/Private Ventures, 1993. 

Herrera, C.,  School-Based Mentoring: A First Look into Its Potential,  Philadelphia, Pa.: Public/Private Ventures, September 1999. 

Herrera, C., C. L. Snipe, and W. S. McClanahan,  Mentoring School-Age Children: Relationship Development in Community-Based School-Based Programs,  Philadelphia, Pa.: Public/Private Ventures, 2000. 

Herrera, Carla, et al.,  Making a Difference in Schools: The Big Brothers Big Sisters School-Based Mentoring,  Philadelphia, Pa.: Public/Private Ventures, 2007. 

Lawler, P.K., S. J. Ellis, and J. Corlett,  Volunteer Education and Development,  Philadelphia, Pa.: Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, 1991. 

Morrow, K. V., and M. B. Styles,  Building Relationships With Youth in Program Settings: A Study of Big Brothers/Big Sisters,  Philadelphia, Pa.: Public/Private Ventures, 1995. 

Peterson, D. G., and J. Magee,  An Evaluation of an Elementary School Based Integenerational Linkages Program: Mentoring for Academic Enrichment,   Philadelphia, Pa.: Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, 1994. 

Roaf, Phoebe A., Joseph P. Tierney, and Danista E.I. Hunte,  Big Brothers/Big Sisters: A Study of Volunteer Recruitment and Screening,  Philadelphia, Pa.: Public/Private Ventures, 1994. 

Tierney, Joseph P., Jean Baldwin Grossman, and Nancy L. Resch,  Making a Difference: An Impact Study of Big Brothers Big Sisters,   Philadelphia, Pa.: Public/Private Ventures, 1995. 

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Last Reviewed

November 2009

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