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Vice President for Research
Thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today. My name is Wendy McClanahan, and I am Vice President for Research at Public/Private Ventures, a national nonprofit organization headquartered in Philadelphia. Our mission is to improve the effectiveness of social policies, programs and community initiatives, especially as they affect youth and young adults. We do this by identifying or developing promising approaches to critical social problems, by rigorously evaluating these approaches and, when suitable, by replicating them in new communities.
Like other stakeholders, P/PV is deeply concerned about violent crime, which is on the rise in many of our nation's cities. Homicides in urban areas have increased by 5.7% in a single year. In Philadelphia, homicide was up by 15% in 2005 (the greatest number of homicides in eight years) and, unfortunately, this increase looks like it might be the start of a trend.
In a series of projects over the past decade, P/PV has extended its research into mentoring programs in a variety of service environments, including its impact on crime and violence, and has added to the findings about mentoring's potential. For today's panel, I would characterize the findings from this work as follows: Mentoring offers real promise in reducing violence among children, youth and young adults. But there are important qualifications that are essential to understanding both the value, and the limitations, of mentoring.
Some of the positive findings from P/PV's work are indeed heartening. We saw:
? A reduction in homicides in districts using a comprehensive program for violence-prone youngsters--Philadelphia's Youth Violence Reduction Partnership;
Findings such as these should rightfully inform decisions about national and local intervention policies, and the role of mentoring in particular. That is all to the good. However, the qualifications--significant ones--all too often are overlooked or minimized. The result may be that there is too much "mentoring" of a kind and quality that in the end is unlikely to help young people, and too much inflated rhetoric about mentoring that may hinder the design of effective policies.
I want to emphasize three qualifications in particular that we need to keep in mind, based on P/PV's research.
Second, just as there aren't free lunches, mentoring is not the cost-free social program it often is made out to be. The experience of Big Brothers Big Sisters makes it clear that the costs of good screening, training and ongoing professional support are far from negligible. In programs that use paid street workers or paid counselors, the costs are even higher.
But the need for strong supports is paramount. P/PV's work suggests that a solid support apparatus is crucial for mentors of high-risk adolescents and young adults. These costs are likely far lower than the costs of long-term incarceration. But they're still a real expense--one that is too often downplayed in discussions of mentoring.
We also need to be mindful of the larger reality: with these high-risk populations, even our most striking statistical successes are modest. Recidivism rates may be reduced, but remain too high; homicides and violent behavior are lessened, but by too little. Despite these caveats, our successes are real and substantial. P/PV's work to date has established that mentoring can contribute to measurable benefits in a variety of settings, including programs for high-risk youth, violence-prone youth and ex-prisoners--perhaps the most difficult and challenging populations in the human service field.
The deep and manifold challenges these young people present mean that mentoring alone will not suffice. We need rich interventions that address multiple challenges with multiple supports and services of uniformly high quality. In programmatic settings such as these, the potential of mentoring--and other sustained, authentic and supportive relationships--will be most fully realized.
The Youth Violence Reduction Partnership (YVRP) aims to reduce youth homicide in Philadelphia's most violent neighborhoods. It specifically targets those deemed by initiative partners as "most likely to kill or be killed" in five of the deadliest Philadelphia police districts, including the 22nd, 24th, and 25th districts in North Philadelphia, the 12th district in southwest Philadelphia, and the 19th district in West Philadelphia. Targeted youth are between the ages of 14 to 24 years, and most have been convicted or adjudicated on a violent or drug-related charge at least once.
YVRP is a collaborative effort that involves law enforcement, city agencies and nonprofit organizations. Specifically, the partners in this multi-agency effort include the District Attorney's Office, the Department of Juvenile Probation, the Department of Adult Probation, the Police Department, the Philadelphia Anti-Drug Anti-Violence Network (PAAN), Philadelphia Safe and Sound, The School District of Philadelphia, and Public/Private Ventures (P/PV). Through its partnering agencies, YVRP takes a two-pronged approach, providing both increased supervision and increased support to its participants, known as "youth partners" (YP's):
1. Supervision: YP's are assigned to probation officers who are themselves specifically assigned to YVRP. This special group of probation officers is given significantly lighter caseloads (often half the size of those for typical probation officers) in exchange for the opportunity to spend time outside of the office meeting with their probationers, usually at their homes, school or work. In addition, the program also promotes heightened scrutiny by law enforcement agencies and intensive supervision by both police and probation officers, including joint police-probation patrols, zero tolerance for drug use and gun possession, and an expedited judicial process for those youth who violate the terms of their probation.
2. Support: Prior research has indicated that increased supervision is inadequate in making permanent changes to youth's criminal behavior. As such, YP's are also given increased positive supports through the role of paraprofessionals known as "streetworkers." Streetworkers fill many roles including mentor, counselor and friend. They also provide both tangible (e.g., rides to job interviews, assistance in purchasing attire for job interviews, information regarding community resources and programs offering developmental opportunities like GED programs) and intangible support (e.g., guidance and advice).
YVRP line staff (which sum to a staff of more than 50 police officers, probation officers and streetworkers) aim to meet with participants and their families more than 25 times per month. Several levels of partnership supervision exist in order to ensure that coordination and accountability remain constant over time. A steering committee, which consists of senior-level executives from each agency, meets quarterly to review strategy, develop funding and intercede with organizations outside the partnership. In addition, a mid-level management team meets monthly to deal with inter-agency issues and to review performance data and adherence to benchmarks (i.e., minimum standards) within the partnership, using monitoring data collected on a monthly basis. Finally, an Operations Committee of about 20 first-level supervisors from the partnering agencies meets weekly to select candidates for intervention and to review recent shootings and arrests of youth ages 14-24 in all YVRP districts. At each meeting, a streetworker-probation officer team presents an overview and update about their caseloads, which enables supervisors to monitor individual youth partner cases.
The program has been operational since 1999, beginning in the 24th and 25th police districts. Results from a preliminary evaluation conducted by P/PV in these two police districts, for which an adequate amount of time had passed to judge trends in district- and city-level homicides over time, suggest that it may be effective in preventing youth homicides (see Alive at 25, McClanahan, 2004, available for free download at www.ppv.org). Analyses examining ten years of homicide data collected from the Philadelphia Police revealed that homicides in the 24th and 25th districts were significantly lower following the inception of YVRP.
Specifically, the average number of quarterly youth homicides declined 50 percent from two youth homicides per quarter to just one youth homicide in the 24th district. The 25th district experienced a similar decline of 59 percent, falling to 3.4 youth homicides per quarter from 5.8. In addition to homicides among youth, the 25th district also saw a significant decline in homicides overall, across all ages. Further, the overall rate of homicide reduction was greater in both YVRP districts than in the city as a whole. Although these positive changes in homicides cannot be conclusively attributed to YVRP, these findings lend preliminary support for the effectiveness of the partnership. A quasi-experimental comparison group study is currently being conducted by P/PV to better assess YVRP's effectiveness as a youth violence prevention strategy.
In 2003, P/PV and the US Department of Labor (DOL) developed Ready4Work: An Ex-Prisoner, Community and Faith Initiative (see Just Out, Jucovy, 2006, and Ready4Work In Brief, Farley and Hackman, 2006, available for free download at www.ppv.org). Ready4Work was designed to address the needs of the growing ex-prisoner population and to test the capacity of community- and faith-based organizations to meet those needs. The Ready4Work initiative aimed to strengthen the social networks and supports of participants, increase employment opportunities and/or improve educational outcomes, provide a range of wraparound direct and referral services, and reduce recidivism.
Ready4Work programs provided three core sets of services: employment-related services (e.g., employment-readiness training and job placement); mentoring (group or one-on-one mentoring); and intensive case management, including referrals for housing, health care, drug treatment and other programs. Juvenile Ready4Work focused on providing case management, mentoring, education and employment services to juvenile returnees. Over a period of three years, 11 adult sites (East Harlem, NY; Philadelphia; Washington, DC; Chicago; Detroit; Milwaukee; Houston; Jacksonville; Memphis; Los Angeles; and Oakland) and 7 juvenile sites (Brooklyn, NY; Camden, NJ; Boston; Los Angeles; Houston; New York City; and Seattle) operated Ready4Work programs and built partnerships among local faith, justice, business and social service organizations. Lead agencies included faith-based organizations, secular nonprofits, a mayor's office and a for-profit entity.
Ready4Work targeted 18- to 34-year-old, nonviolent, non-sexual-felony offenders--individuals with the highest risk of recidivism--and enrolled them within 90 days of their release from prison. All participants enrolled voluntarily and could receive services for up to one year.
Participants in Ready4Work remained engaged in the program for a significant period of time: a median of eight months. Only a small proportion left the program during the first few months, while just under 30 percent took advantage of the full 12 months of services.
According to incarceration records available for 8 of the 11 Ready4Work sites, recidivism rates among participants were considerably lower than those reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) for a nationally representative population of ex-prisoners. Just 1.9 percent of Ready4Work participants returned to state prison with a new offense within six months of their release (compared with 5 percent nationally), and only 5 percent did so within one year (compared with 10.4 percent nationally).
P/PV was also able to obtain BJS data on a group of ex-prisoners more similar to Ready4Work participants--18- to 34-year-old, African American, nonviolent felons--which provides a more relevant comparison point. Just 2.4 percent of African American felons participating in
Mentoring and R4W
Ready4Work's most innovative aspect may be its mentoring component: Few social programs have attempted to provide adults--much less ex-offenders--with mentors. P/PV set out to examine how mentoring was related to other in-program outcomes, using four sources of information collected throughout the three years of the initiative: site-reported data on program participants; a questionnaire completed by participants; interviews with program staff, participants and mentors; and public incarceration records.
Participants who met with a mentor at least once remained in the program longer (10.2 months compared to others who left after an average of 7.2 months). Furthermore, participants who received mentoring of any kind in a given month were 70 percent less likely to leave the program during the following month than participants who were not mentored. Because mentoring is voluntary, some of this observed link may reflect participants' motivation. That is, participants who are more motivated may be both more likely to be involved in mentoring and more likely to remain in the program. Nevertheless, the results are encouraging, because the longer participants remain engaged in a program, the more likely they are to benefit.
Participants who received mentoring were also twice as likely to obtain a job than those who did not take advantage of mentoring. Meeting with a mentor increased a participant's odds of getting a job the next month by 73 percent over ex-offenders not taking advantage of the program. Participants who met with a mentor were 56 percent more likely to remain employed for three months than those who did not.
P/PV's Evaluation of Big Brothers Big Sisters' Youth Mentoring Program
In its landmark study of Big Brothers/Big Sisters' (BBBS) community-based mentoring program, Public/Private Ventures answered the question, "can mentoring by a caring adult make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth ages 10 to 16?" The results were positive; the study showed that mentoring benefited youth in several areas, including reductions in drug and alcohol use, reduced violent behavior, increases in school attendance and performance, more positive attitudes towards schoolwork, and higher quality peer and family relationships. Mentors met with their youth almost weekly for a year; the mentor functioned as a friend, not a teacher or a preacher; and the mentors were carefully screened, trained and supervised. (See Making a Difference: An Impact Study of Big Brothers Big Sisters, Tierney and Grossman, 1995, available for free download at www.ppv.org.).
The BBBS Youth Mentoring Program
BBBS' community-based mentoring program aims to provide children (aged 5 to16) from poor single parent homes with long-term, regular contact with a caring adult. Mentors commit to meeting with their child for a minimum of 12 months. The mentors meet approximately once a week for several hours. BBBS is a well-established, high-quality program with more than 500 affiliates across every state, each of which must meet national program standards for level of recruitment, volunteer screening, mentor matching, and continuous supervision and support of matched pairs.
P/PV's Evaluation Methodology
P/PV used the most rigorous of evaluation designs (random assignment) to ensure its findings were defensible. Approximately 1,000 children from eight geographically diverse locations were enrolled in the study. Half of them were assigned, through a lottery, to a group that was matched with a mentor, while the other half of the children joined the wait list for 18 months.
Nearly two-thirds of the study participants were boys, and over half were from a minority group, with 70 percent of that number being African American. Sixty-nine percent of the children were between the ages of 11 and 13 at the start of the program. Fifty-five percent of parents earned a high school equivalency or less. Ninety percent of youth lived with only one parent and many lived in poor households--over 40 percent were receiving either food stamps and/or cash public assistance.
Study participants completed baseline surveys, which gathered basic demographic information as well as the baseline measures for outcome variables in six areas: antisocial activities; academic performance, attitudes and behaviors; relationships with family; relationships with friends; self-concept; and social and cultural enrichment. All study children also filled out follow-up surveys 18 months later. Of the 487 youth assigned to the mentored group, 378 were matched with a Big Brother or Big Sister and met for an average of almost 12 months, meeting about three times per month for about four hours each time.
P/PV found positive impacts of mentoring in all six areas investigated, except social and cultural enrichment. Especially notable impacts within each area include:
? Mentored youth were almost one third less likely to report hitting someone in the past 12 months.
At the time that the National Faith-Based Initiative for High-Risk Youth (NFBI) began in 1998, little evidence existed about the effectiveness of mentoring programs for high-risk young people. Two out of three significant studies evaluating the effect of mentoring on recidivism found mixed results, while a third found mentoring to be harmful (McCord 1992; O'Donnell et al. 1979; Davidson et al. 1987). None of these studies, however, included mentoring programs operated by faith-based organizations.
A recent review that assesses evaluations completed since the NFBI began comes to the same conclusion: some programs have achieved modest positive results while others appear to have some harmful effects (Blechman and Bopp 2005). Therefore, the question remains: can mentoring deter high-risk youth from risky behaviors?
Three elements formed the core of the NFBI program:
1. A focus on high-risk youth: P/PV required sites to target youth already involved in delinquent activities, or considered by community members to be headed for trouble.
We continued, however, to look at the NFBI's mentoring component. Our third report on the initiative focused on mentoring programs (Bauldry and Hartmann 2004). In that report we documented the creative ways in which the NFBI sites adapted the best practices from community-based mentoring programs to address the unique challenges of working with high-risk youth and faith-based mentors. We found that the sites struggled with mentor recruitment and estimated that they managed to recruit only a third of the volunteers needed to provide a mentor for each young person in their programs at the time. These faith-based mentors tended to be well-educated and resided outside the local community, offering their mentees links to opportunities that may have been unavailable within their own neighborhoods.
We also felt it would be valuable to document participating youth's outcomes in order to determine the more or less successful components of the NFBI, and provide information to the field that might help funders and program operators make better choices about what and how to implement. There are two limitations of the study design to keep in mind when assessing our findings. First, since we did not conduct a random assignment or comparison group study, we cannot attribute the changes the youth experienced to their participation in the programs. Second, due to the timing of the demonstration and the enrollment processes at the sites, we had an average of about six months between baseline and follow-up.