October 14, 2021
Friends of the Children opening Montana chapter, executive director announced
Missoula resident Ben Davis tapped to lead the Western Montana region
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
OCT. 14, 2021
Ariane Le Chevallier
OCT. 14, 2021 (MISSOULA, MT) – Friends of the Children, a national nonprofit that pairs children who face multiple systemic obstacles with a paid, professional mentor called a Friend for 12+ years, announced today that they are launching a Friends of the Children–Montana chapter and have named Missoula resident Ben Davis as the executive director of the Western Montana Region.
“Every child in Montana deserves the opportunity to dream big and reach their goals, but too many children face a lot of adversity that can seem impossible to overcome,” said Davis, Friends – Montana Western Region Executive Director. “I am really looking forward to this incredible opportunity and know that our Montana youth and families who are experiencing incredible challenges – such as intergenerational poverty, neglect, and abuse – can thrive with the support of a Friend.”
Friends—Montana will initially begin identifying and enrolling children in the greater Missoula area. They will expand relationships in the early years within Missoula and with outlying rural and tribal communities to ensure a thoughtful regional approach is adopted. Each child selected is paired with a Friend whose full-time job is to spend four hours a week with each child at school, at home and in the community. Friends will support youth—and by extension, their families—for 12+ years, building trusting relationships through a trauma-informed lens that provides critical social, emotional and academic support.
Several notable funders and leaders in the area have been instrumental in bringing the chapter to Missoula, including the Tykeson Family Foundation, SCHEELS, Echo Fund, Llewellyn Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana and First Interstate Bank. In addition, Lowell Elementary Principal Barbara Frank and Missoula Community Foundation Executive Director Marcy Allen have been greatly supportive and encouraging.
“Along with our partners, we are honored to support Friends of the Children as it opens the much-anticipated Montana chapter,” said Amy Tykeson, Managing Trustee of the Tykeson Family Foundation. “Friends has positively impacted outcomes for children and their parents in locations across the country. We are excited to have this successful organization join the important work in Montana's communities to support the transformation in the lives of children facing the greatest obstacles."
The organization, which was founded in Oregon by entrepreneur Duncan Campbell more than 28 years ago, specializes in serving youth who have been impacted by economic instability, foster care, substance abuse, parental incarceration, and other traumatic events that create instability. In recent years, the organization has expanded to support parents through an innovative Two-Generation (2Gen) model aimed at supporting families in achieving overall health and well-being.
Among families experiencing intergenerational poverty, the rate of contact with the Montana child welfare system is particularly high. While the majority of families living in poverty thankfully never come to the attention of the child welfare system, unfortunately poverty is still the greatest predictor of child welfare involvement.
- 16% of Montana children live in families experiencing poverty and 27% have parents who lack secure employment (Montana Kids Count).
- Feeding America projects childhood food insecurity in Montana will have been as high as 26% in 2020 up from 16% in 2018 (Montana Budget and Policy Center).
- According to the Missoula Current, data provided by Child Trends showed Montana was ranked second in the nation with a rate of 16.8 children in care per 1,000 in 2017. Child abuse and neglect cases in Montana rose by 130% between 2009 and 2015, an alarming increase that is strongly connected to substance abuse, according to government data.
Poverty, a lack of access to basic needs, child welfare system involvement, parental substance use and lack of access to mental health support all negatively affect a child’s long-term health outcomes. Trauma and mental health issues for parents and children are a major cause for concern, with youth suicide rates in Montana among the highest in the nation. Fortunately, research shows that a consistent, supportive relationship with a caring adult is the single-most important factor in shaping a child’s future—and can mitigate these traumas.
Research funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation showed that the presence of a Friend in a child’s life benefits the entire family. Another recent CDC report called out the practice of mentoring as a promising strategy for preventing and lessening the harm from childhood trauma. A third-party evaluation of Friends of the Children program graduates showed that:
- 92% of graduates go on to enroll in post-secondary education, serve our country or enter the workforce
- 83% of youth obtain a high school diploma or GED
- 93% remain free from juvenile justice system involvement
- 98% wait to parent until after their teen years
Key Montana state, Missoula County and city-level stakeholders who are working to improve child well-being for families facing multiple systemic obstacles have supported bringing the model to Montana. Those leaders have identified children and families who are experiencing systemic poverty and who are at the highest risk of neglect and abuse as a top priority for Friends-Montana. To date, more than $1 million in seed capital has been raised to launch the chapter, including investments from foundations, corporations and individuals.
"We are incredibly grateful to local philanthropic and business leaders for coming together and recognizing that Montana children who have experienced a lot of trauma need more support,” said Angela Groves, chief expansion officer at Friends of the Children. “Our partners made this chapter possible because of their commitment to supporting children and families in achieving health and well-being. We are confident Ben is the right choice to launch and lead our efforts in Western Montana, growing its impact for Montanans now and in the future.”
Prior to being selected as Friends–Montana’s Western Region executive director, Davis co-founded and served as chief research officer of a groundbreaking research and data analytics company, Kharon. Davis previously worked as a district attorney in Denver, Colo. It was during this period of his career when he became deeply involved in volunteering his time to mentor children and work on social equity issues impacting youth and their families. Earlier in his career, Ben directed numerous federal political campaigns where he oversaw all aspects of the campaign’s operations, fundraising, grassroots organizing, and media strategy.
In addition to the new Montana chapter, Friends of the Children is in 22 other locations across the U.S., with one location in Cornwall, U.K. The organization has seen tremendous growth, launching 19 new locations in just seven years. Friends–Montana is in the process of building its Board of Directors.
About Friends of the Children
Friends of the Children is a national nonprofit with the mission of impacting generational change by empowering youth who are facing the greatest obstacles through relationships with professional mentors – 12+ years, no matter what. Our successful model is now in 24 locations around the country and in Cornwall U.K. Our work has been featured in The New York Times, Stanford Social Innovation Review and CBS News. Visit friendsofthechildren.org to learn more.