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Big Brothers Big Sisters

Ages 6-16

Rating: Level 1


Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) is a federation of more than 420 agencies that serve children and adolescents. The basic concept of the BBBS program is not to ameliorate specific problems, but to provide support in all aspects of young people’s lives through a professionally supported one-to-one relationship with a caring adult. In the community-based traditional program the volunteer mentor commits substantial time to the youth, meeting for about 4 hours, two to four times a month, for at least 1 year. During their time together, the mentor and youth engage in developmentally appropriate activities that include walking; visiting a library; washing the car; playing catch; grocery shopping; watching television; attending a play, movie, school activity, or sporting event; or just hanging out and sharing thoughts. According to Grossman and Garry (1997), “Such activities enhance communication skills, develop relationship skills, and support positive decision-making.”

Over the past 10 years, BBBS has added a school-based program in which volunteers meet with their Little Brother or Little Sister weekly for an hour. Together they play educational games, work on homework or crafts, or just talk.

Although individual agencies may customize their programs to fit specific needs, the integrity of the program is protected through a national infrastructure that oversees recruitment, screening, matching, and supervision. The screening and matching process provides an opportunity to select adults who are most likely to be successful mentors and match them with adolescents who share a common belief system. Staff supervision and support are critical to ensuring that mentor and mentee meet regularly to build positive relationships.


Public/Private Ventures (PPV) conducted an extensive 18-month evaluation of the BBBS program (Tierny, Grossman, and Resch, 1995). The study used a classical experimental design to evaluate the program. Eight local BB/BS sites were chosen for the study, including Columbus, Ohio; Houston, Texas; Minneapolis, Minn.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Rochester, N.Y.; San Antonio, Texas; and Wichita, Kan. The sites were chosen using two criteria: 1) a large caseload (to ensure an adequate number of youths for the sample) and 2) geographic diversity. The adolescents in the study were randomly assigned to be immediately eligible for a mentor or put on a waiting list. They were between ages 10 and 16. Slightly more than 60 percent were boys, and more than 50 percent were minorities. Moreover, many lived with one parent and were from low-income households with a history of family violence, substance abuse, or both. A study of the school-based program has been conducted by PPV, and the findings are due to be released in spring 2007.


The researchers considered seven broad areas: 1) antisocial activities, 2) academic performance, 3) attitudes and behaviors, 4) relationships with family, 5) relationships with friends, 6) self-concept, and 7) social and cultural enrichment. The researchers found that, compared with the control group, mentored youths were

  • 46 percent less likely than controls to initiate drug use
  • 27 percent less likely to initiate alcohol use
  • Almost one third less likely to hit someone
  • Skipped half as many school days
  • Felt more competent at schoolwork and showed gains in grade point average
  • Displayed better relationships with their parents and peers

Public–Private Ventures concluded that the research presents clear evidence that mentoring programs can create and support caring relationships between mentor and mentee resulting in positive benefits.

Risk Factors


  • Anti-social behavior and alienation/Delinquent beliefs/General delinquency involvement/Drug dealing
  • Cognitive and neurological deficits/Low intelligence quotient/Hyperactivity
  • Early onset of aggression and/or violence
  • Favorable attitudes toward drug use/Early onset of AOD use/Alcohol and/or drug use
  • Mental disorder/Mental health problem/Conduct disorder


  • Dropping out of school
  • Identified as learning disabled
  • Low academic achievement
  • Negative attitude toward school/Low bonding/Low school attachment/Commitment to school

Protective Factors


  • Positive / Resilient temperament
  • Religiosity / Involvement in organized religious activities
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • Good relationships with parents / Bonding or attachment to family


  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults
  • Prosocial opportunities for participation / Availability of neighborhood resources


  • OJJDP: Blueprints
  • SAMHSA: Model Programs
  • NIJ: What Works


Grossman, Jean Baldwin, and Eileen M. Garry. 1997. Mentoring—A Proven Delinquency Prevention Strategy. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

McGill, Dagmar E., Sharon F. Mihalic, and Jennifer K. Grotpeter. 1998. Blueprints for Violence Prevention, Book 2: Big Brothers/ Big Sisters of America. Boulder, Colo.: Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.

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


Joseph Radelet
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
230 North 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Phone: (215) 567-7000
Fax: (215) 567-0394
Web site: