Big Brothers Big Sisters
- This strategy can help address educational disparities, promote healthy childhood environments, and prevent violence. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve these outcomes are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds
- Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
Volunteer mentoring program: Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) is a mentoring program that matches volunteer mentors (“Bigs”) with disadvantaged youth mentees (“Littles”). There is some evidence that the program reduces risky and unhealthy behavior and increases academic achievement among mentees.
Rigorous mentor screening and training: Volunteer mentors undergo a screening and training process before they begin working with Littles. This screening includes a thorough background check and training, which addresses key components of working with youth, like social-emotional learning, trauma-informed care, and cultural competency. Bigs are expected to commit to at least one year of mentoring in the program.
Support from program staff for Big-Little pairs: BBBS program staff match mentors and mentees and provide continuous support and guidance during the first year of a mentoring relationship. Matches are formed based on interviews and surveys conducted with Bigs, Littles, and families. After matching, BBBS staff establish regular check-ins (at least monthly) with the Big, Little, and parents in order to offer guidance and help resolve any issues in the relationship.
Occurs in varied settings: Typically, BBBS programs are structured for either community-based or site-based mentoring. Community-based mentoring consists of one-on-one outings and activities at locations selected by Bigs and Littles. Site-based mentoring meetings take place at designated locations (e.g., schools, community centers) and typically have a more structured schedule. At site-based locations, a BBBS staff member facilitates mentoring activities.
Network of independent agencies: BBBS is delivered by a network of independent nonprofit agencies, all of which are supported by the centralized Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA). BBBSA provides a standardized Service Delivery Model for agencies as a guide for how they should operate the program, including parameters for interactions with Bigs, Littles, and parents or guardians. Independent agencies then have space to innovate or adapt programming. Some agencies, for example, offer expanded programming for youth beyond high school, group mentoring, or wraparound services for Littles’ families.
School attendance, persistence, and alternative paths to graduationSchool climate and student behavior
- Target Population
All school-aged children
- Cost per Participant
Approximately $1,512 to create and support each match
Evidence and impacts
Ranked as having the highest level of evidence by the National Institute of Justice, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; the second-highest level of evidence by Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development, Social Programs that Work, California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare, County Health Rankings and Roadmaps
Multiple studies with rigorous designs provide some evidence that Big Brothers Big Sisters improves behavioral outcomes for youth.
Best practices in implementation
Recruit using referrals: People are more likely to volunteer when they have been asked by someone they know. Mentoring programs, like BBBS, can take advantage of this dynamic by creating a referral program for current employees and mentors to conduct individualized outreach to potential mentors in their network.
Facilitate strong, long-term matches: Longer mentoring relationships have been shown to yield stronger outcomes for youth. To identify strong matches, mentoring programs, like BBBS, may consider mentor and mentee characteristics (e.g., interests, proximity, preferences, risk and protective factors), sponsor matching events where prospective mentors and mentees interact with and provide feedback on potential matches, or provide parents or guardians with the opportunity to provide feedback on potential mentors.
Emphasize the mentor’s supportive role: It is central to the BBBS model for mentors to form a supportive friendship with their mentee. Rather than work towards a specific outcome (e.g., tutoring for academic achievement), Bigs should focus on the strength of their relationship with Littles. While they can provide guidance or academic support, they are not exclusively an advisor or tutor.
Monitor and collect data on mentoring relationships: Mentoring relationships change over time, and programs should monitor the progress of each mentoring relationship. Scientifically-validated relationship assessment tools are an evidence-based approach to collecting data to assess relationship quality. In particular, BBBS agencies should use the Strength of Relationships survey to measure satisfaction and connection between Bigs and Littles.