Wichita, Minneapolis, Rochester, Columbus, Philadelphia, Houston, and San Antonio. Youth ages 10 to 16 who came to the agencies during the study period, October 1991 to February 1993, were randomly assigned to either the mentoring or the control group. Baseline data were collected, treatment subjects were matched with a mentor when possible, and control subjects were placed on a waiting list for 18 months. Pre-and posttreatment data consisted of self-assessment questionnaires on family background information and outcome variables. The evaluation sample consisted of 959 10- to 16-year-olds (487 treatment, 472 controls) from single-parent households. At pretest, 69 percent were between the ages of 11 and 13; 43.3 percent lived in households receiving public assistance; 27.1 percent were experiencing physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; 23 percent were minority girls, 15 percent were white girls, 34 percent were minority boys, and 28 percent were white boys.
Matches were found for 378 (78 percent) of the 487 members of the treatment group; 109 of the treatment group were not matched. The evaluators suggested three main reasons for the failure to match the 109 treatment youth: (1) 33 became ineligible for the program because their parent remarried, the youth became too old, or the residence of the youth changed; (2) 31 because the youth no longer wanted to participate; and (3) 21 because the staff couldn’t find a suitable volunteer mentor. The other 24 were not matched for a variety of reasons such as parent or youth not following through on the intake process.
Youth in the treatment group (including both those who received a mentor and those who did not) were less likely to initiate drug and alcohol use than the waiting list youth; they also reported hitting others less often. Their grade point average was higher, and they attended school more often. Finally they also reported better parental relationships and more parental trust.
The Big Brothers Big Sisters program is a very promising program based on the multiple benefits to youth of being mentored by nonfamilial adults. The random assignment evaluation design meets high standards. One major weakness, however, is the total reliance on self-reporting by the youth for the outcome measures. Another is the failure to include implementation or process analysis. As a result, we really know little about why the average-level effects are obtained and why the program may have worked very well for some youth and not at all for others. A