About This Project
I'm studying the role of mentoring relationships in promoting the long-term health and well-being of youth from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. To do this, I'm gathering data from persons who participated in a study of the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program over 20 years ago while growing up. Mentoring programs are very popular and receive substantial amounts of governmental and private funding. The results of this study will help to ensure that these investments are made wisely.
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What is the context of this research?
For over a century, Big Brothers Big Sisters has provided disadvantaged youth with professionally-supported 1-to-1 mentoring relationships with community volunteers. As a mentor in the program to an energetic and sociable seven-year-old boy, "Marcus", I witnessed firsthand how invaluable adult friendship and support can be for a young person faced with challenging life circumstances. Yet, as a researcher I know that “hard data” rules. Research conducted by myself and others has documented the short-term benefits of mentoring for young persons like Marcus in a variety of areas, such as school, behavior, and self-esteem (DuBois et al., 2011). This study asks a critical new question that has not yet been answered: “Do mentoring programs make a lasting difference that extends into adulthood?”
What is the significance of this project?
Millions of young people from poor families in the U.S. currently grow up without the benefit of meaningful mentoring from adults outside their families. Narrowing this gap could be truly instrumental in helping disadvantaged youth better realize their full potential in areas such as education, work, health, and social relationships. Yet, scientific evidence is needed to ensure that investments in "scaling up" mentoring are made wisely. One key question is whether mentoring for disadvantaged youth has lasting effects that remain evident during their adult years. My study, the first of its kind, will shed light on this question by gathering follow up data on more than 1,000 persons who participated in a study of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program while growing up more than 20 years ago.
What are the goals of the project?
The study’s goals are to:
- Estimate the long-term effects of the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) program on educational attainment, employment status, criminal offending, and health and well-being during adulthood.
- Identify distinguishing characteristics of those who benefit most from participation in the BBBS program.
- Conduct a cost-benefit analysis to assess the long-term “purchasing power” and return on investment of the program.
To address these goals, an on-line survey is asking study participants’ about their experiences in the BBBS program and a range of other topics (e.g., employment, health behaviors, well-being). Data on educational attainment are being obtained from the National Student Clearinghouse and adult arrest data are being obtained through public record searches.
This study is already successfully underway. Our progress to date has been in large part the result of the tireless efforts of a team of dedicated and talented undergraduate students who volunteer their time, sometimes receiving academic credit in the process. These research assistants use publicly-available resources to find current contact information for those we hope to involve in the research, reach out to these individuals via mail, phone, and social media to make contact with them and describe the research, and much more. It is essential, however, to have a full-time professional staff person coordinating and supervising the research team's efforts. I have a fabulous person in this position currently. However, the funding available to support the position will be exhausted before the research can be successfully completed. Extending the current coordinator's position without interruption will provide essential continuity in the on-the-ground leadership of the study.
Meet the Team
David L. DuBois, PhD, is a professor in the Division of Community Health Sciences within the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He received his doctorate in clinical-community psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research examines the contribution of protective factors, particularly self-esteem and mentoring relationships, to resilience and holistic positive development and on translating knowledge in this area to the design of effective youth programs.
Dr. DuBois has authored numerous peer-reviewed studies on these topics, including two widely-cited meta-analyses of the effectiveness of youth mentoring programs. He is lead co-editor of the Handbook of Youth Mentoring (Sage Publications) and is co-author of After-School Centers and Youth Development: Case Studies of Success and Failure (Cambridge University Press, 2012). Each has received Social Policy book awards from the Society of Research on Adolescence.
Dr. DuBois' research has been funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, DHHS Office of Minority Health, and the Institute of Education Sciences. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and Society for Community Research and Action as well as a past Distinguished Fellow of the William T. Grant Foundation.
Dr. DuBois has served as a consultant and advisor to mentoring programs and organizations both nationally and internationally. He is the founder and moderator of the Youth Mentoring Research and Practice listserv, which includes over 600 members, and the Director of Research for the National Mentoring Resource Center. Dr. DuBois also has served as a mentor himself in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. He lives in Chicago, Illinois, with his wife, Natalie, three daughters, Becky, Gwyn, and Lily, and Ella, rescue dog extraordinaire.
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