A federal grant will allow for the completion of a major study on the effect of long-term professional mentoring on at-risk youth.
Every single one of the 5- and 6-year-old kids in the study faced multiple daunting obstacles before they met their “friends” – the full-time professional mentors supplied by the nonprofit Friends of the Children – who have helped them navigate life’s inevitable challenges for at least the next 12 years.
The five-year, $2.5 million grant will allow researchers at the University of Washington to determine whether those kids are now better equipped to succeed as adults than a group of similar, randomly selected kids who didn’t get any professional mentoring.
The final results of this pioneering “randomized-controlled study” – often referred to as the gold standard of scientific research – will shed light on whether these committed, caring relationships with children who otherwise would likely not have this support stand to fare better in the long term than the control group. Few studies of similarly high quality mentoring programs have been conducted on children in the United States.
The results from previous studies of the program have been promising. According to the group Friends of the Children, which runs the mentoring program in 22 locations across the U.S.: 92% of the mentored youth go on to enroll in post-secondary education, serve the country, or enter the workforce; 83% earn a high school diploma or a GED; 93% stay of trouble with the police, 98% don’t have children as teens.
“When Friends of the Children was founded in 1993, we were committed to building a program that was data-informed and based in sound research,” said Terri Sorensen, CEO of Friends of the Children. “We also wanted third-party investigation from a randomized-controlled trial to explore how children’s lives are impacted by having a long-term, consistent, caring adult presence. We could not be more thrilled that our dedicated researchers will now complete the 12-year study.”
The $2.5 million, five-year grant to the University of Washington’s Social Development Research Group is coming from the National Institute of Child Health Development at the National Institutes of Health.
The next phase will examine the impact of Friends of the Children’s model on youth when they finished the program, then at age 19 and again at 21. It will look at the effect of long-term mentoring on whether participating kids graduated high school, stay out of trouble with the law and don’t have children while they are still in their teen years.
“To date, the study findings have suggested that the Friends of the Children model is quite promising, says Kevin P. Haggerty, a principal investigator on the study. “While the outcomes midway through the program have been similar to volunteer mentoring programs, many of those programs only last about a year, whereas this program commits to provide mentoring to a child for more than 12 years.”
The final study findings will be published after the completion of the NIH grant in 2025.