April 2002Vol. 3, No. 3Friends of the Children Offers Long-Term Mentoring to Troubled Kids
A Portland, Oregon-based organization takes the long view when it comes to prevention and asks its employees to do likewise. Friends of the Children aims to provide an antidote to instability in children's lives by pairing them with a mentor who commits to staying on the job for 12 years—long enough to see their charge through school.
The philosophy of Friends of the Children is that what many troubled children need is a stable, enduring, caring relationship with an adult. Friends of the Children has a staff of paid, professional mentors ("Friends") who are assigned to spend around 4 hours per week with each child to which they are assigned. First grade teachers identify children most at risk for participation in the program. Mentors are expected to establish relationships with these children, and maintain them for at least 12 years. Parents and guardians must agree to the long-term commitment.
Friends of the Children was founded in 1993 in Portland, Oregon by a businessman named Duncan Campbell. It began with 3 Friends serving 24 children in northeast Portland. As of January 2002, the program has employed 88 Friends, serving more than 700 children in 11 cities. Additional locations include Washington DC, San Francisco, New York City, Cincinnati, and Seattle. The organization broadens its impact by expanding to two new cities every year.
By focusing on prevention rather than rehabilitation, Friends of the Children achieves positive outcomes at much lower costs. The National Center for Juvenile Justice estimates that the total cost of rehabilitating one youth can average between $1.7 and $2.3 million, while the total cost for one child in Friends for 12 years is $84,000 ($7,000 per year). An independent evaluation of behavioral and emotional indicators indicates steady improvements in self-esteem, communication skills, and impulsive behaviors. Teacher evaluations have also shown stability in classroom behavior and academic progress.
"Given the vulnerability of the population, and the focus on prevention, we can conclude that, while it's too early to say that kids are improving, we can definitely state that we are keeping them from getting worse," writes Steve Berman, MSW, MBA, LCSW, and program manager for Portland Friends of the Children, in the Fall 2001 issue of Focal Point.
For an in-depth view of why Friends of the Children works, read Berman's article online at: http://www.rtc.pdx.edu/FPinHTML/ FocalPointFA01/pgFPfa01Friends.shtml
Friends of the Children
44 NE Morris St.
Portland, OR 97212
Toll Free: 877-493-2707
Download a new research brief from Child Trends, which finds that mentoring programs can significantly improve outcomes for kids, but only if relationships between mentor and mentee are long-term and intensive and if programs are well-structured (http://www.childtrends.org/files/MentoringBrief2002.pdf).
See the following related articles in these past issues of the Children's Bureau Express:
- "Mentors Share Homes, Teach Life Skills to At-Risk Families" (September/October 2001)
- "Mentoring Program Targets Foster Care Children" (September/October 2001)
- "Study Examines a Successful Independent Living Program for High Risk Youth" (May/June 2001)