BIG BROTHERS / BIG SISTERS

Principal Investigator: Joseph P. Tierney and Jean Baldwin Grossman

Level of Intervention: Selected

Target Population: Usually low-income children and adolescents (age 5-18) with limited number of supportive adults in their life and minimum level of social skills. Participants are often from single parent homes.

References: Tierney, Grossman, & Resch (1995); Grossman & Tierney (1998).

Theory (Risk & Protective Factors Targeted):
Based on research that support and guidance from adults is critical for successful adolescent development (Haensly & Parsons, 1993) and that a supportive relationship with an unrelated adult may be a critical protective factor for a child living in a high-risk environment (Garmezy, 1985; Rutter, 1987; Werner & Smith, 1992).

Description of Intervention:
The intervention involves a supportive relationship with a caring adult matched on parent and mentor preferences (e.g. age, race, religion). General matching based on gender, geographic proximity, and availability. Over the course of at least one-year, mentors meet with assigned child 3 times a month for 3-4 hours.

In order to ensure effective matches between volunteers and youth and to monitor program quality, the professional staff of BB/BS screens all applicants, youth, and their families. Orientations are conducted with youth and volunteers, and trainings are conducted with volunteers. BB/BS staff supervise matches between youth and volunteers by contacting all parties within 2 weeks of the initial match and then having monthly telephone contact with the volunteer for the first year of the program. The BB/BS staff also contacts the youth at least 4 times directly the first year.

Research Subjects:
The subjects consisted of 959 youth age 10 to 16. The sample was 37.6% female and 62.4% male. Subjects were almost evenly distributed between BB/BS mentoring (N=487) and control (N=472) conditions. More than 40% of the subjects were living in families that were receiving food stamps and/or cash public assistance.

Research Design:
Subjects were drawn from 8 BB/BS agencies (out of a potential pool of more than 500 agencies) with large caseloads in geographically distinct areas. Youth from these agencies were randomly assigned to mentoring or control. Treatment subjects were paired with a mentor and control subjects were placed on a waiting list for 18 months.

Outcomes:
Using a 90% confidence level, there were no differences between the intervention and control groups.

Many individual items regarding antisocial activities, academic outcomes, & social & cultural enrichment were drawn from interview questions. Youth self-report measures included the Self-Perception Profile for Children (Harter, 1985), the School Values Questionnaire (Berndt & Miller, 1990), the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment (IPPA; Armsden & Greenberg, 1987), the Features of Children’s Friendship Scales (Berndt & Pery, 1986), and the Self-Image Questionnaire for Young Adolescents (Petersen et al., 1984).

Multivariate techniques (i.e. regressions and logits) were used to estimate intervention effects. Characteristics of youth and baseline ratings on outcomes were controlled for in the models. A dummy variable was used to represent status (i.e. intervention vs. control) and the coefficient for this variable was interpreted as a measure of the program impact. Sub-group-treatment interaction terms were included to estimate sub-group impacts. The treatment group included some youths who were assigned to receive the intervention but were never able to be matched.

Post-Test (18 month):
There was an overall effect for treatment subjects reporting fewer incidents of hitting someone compared to controls (p<.05). This finding was not significant for any sub-group. Youth who participated in BB/BS were less likely to report that they initiated illegal drug use (p<.05). This effect was only significant in sub-group analyses for minority males (p<.05). Although there was no overall effect of the intervention on child self-reported GPA, girls in BB/BS reported higher grades after participating in the program compared to controls (p<.05). There were significant treatment effects on youth self-reported truancy. Overall youth in the intervention group reported less skipping of school (p<.01). This effect was due to the significant differences for female participants compared to controls (p<.01) and included significant effects for both Minority and Caucasian subgroups of girls. Treatment subjects reported more trust (p<.05) & more positive perceptions of their relationship (p<.05) with their mother (IPPA summary score). This was due to significant differences for white males (p<.05). This subgroup also reported increased communication (p<.05) with parents but the overall treatment effect for parental communication was non-significant. Minority male intervention youth reported more perceived emotional support from peers (p<.05) compared to controls.

Strengths & Limitations:
Big Brothers/Big Sisters is a mentoring program designed to reduce the risk of limited social support that is often associated with poverty and living in a single-parent home. The program attempts to improve adolescent outcomes by providing low-income youth with a stable and nurturing positive relationship with an adult. There is support that the program is effective in improving adolescent report of their academic performance and behavior. Youth who participated in the program also reported more positive perceptions of their significant relationships. However, the project showed few main effects and most of the findings were only significant in specific subgroups.

The quality of the evaluation (e.g. design, sample size) was good, but it was unfortunate that only self-report measures were used to measure outcomes. While self-reported information from youth is acceptable for many different dimensions of behavior, particularly delinquent activity, multiple measures and non-biased sources (e.g. school records) would strengthen the findings.

It is very difficult to measure fidelity in this type of program. While the BB/BS organization has certain procedures outlined for the recruitment, screening, and matching of its volunteers, these processes were not specifically measured in the evaluation. Intervention effects by quality of mentor or dosage were not addressed in the evaluation though the authors reported that these types of analyses are planned for the future.

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