August 05, 2020

Researchers Receive $2.5 Million NIH Grant to Complete Randomized Controlled Trial on Friends of the Children’s Mentoring Model

The trial is the longest-running study of salaried, professional youth mentoring in the country.

August 5, 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. – Researchers at the University of Washington’s Social Development Research Group were awarded a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to complete a randomized controlled trial (RCT)—the gold standard in research—on Friends of the Children’s 12-year mentoring model. Beginning when children were ages 5 to 6, the study is the longest-running professional, salaried youth mentoring RCT in the country. This grant will support the completion of the second phase of the RCT on youth progress at the end of adolescence.

“When Friends of the Children was founded in 1993, we were committed to building a program that was data-informed and based in sound research,” said Terri Sorensen, CEO of Friends of the Children. “We also wanted third-party investigation from a randomized-controlled trial to explore how children’s lives are impacted by having a long-term, consistent, caring adult presence. We could not be more thrilled that our dedicated researchers will now complete the 12-year study.”

The next phase of the RCT will examine the impact of Friends of the Children’s model on study youth when they finished the program, then at age 19 and then at age 21. The study will also evaluate whether Friends of the Children’s long-term program outcomes were achieved: graduating high school, remaining free from juvenile justice system involvement and waiting to parent until after the teen years. The study will also show how Friends of the Children prepares youth for entering adulthood prepared to succeed.

In 2017, researchers led by J. Mark Eddy, Ph.D. from Partners for Our Children at the University of Washington, published findings from the early years of the study. It showed statistically significant differences between children who had a Friend—a full-time, salaried, professional mentor— and children who did not participate in the program.

When study children averaged 12 years old, youth with a Friend were more likely to behave positively in school and complete tasks on time, use anger-management skills and demonstrate a sense of belonging to the family. Friends’ youth were also less likely to get suspended or expelled from school and be argumentative or disobedient. We also learned that parents rated children’s behavior more positively, which is an important protective factor for the achievement of long-term positive youth development.

“To date, the study findings have suggested that the Friends of the Children model is quite promising, said Kevin P. Haggerty, M.S.W., Ph.D., one of the principal investigators on the study. “While the outcomes mid-way through the program have been similar to volunteer mentoring programs, many of those programs only last about a year, whereas this program commits to provide mentoring to a child for more than 12 years.”

Other research has shown that childhood anti-social behavior is an early predictor of adolescent drug and alcohol abuse, as well as other risky behaviors, like academic failure, juvenile delinquency, early sexual behavior and dropping out of school. Research has also shown that a positive parental perception of child behavior is a strong protective factor for youth development.

The study began in 2007 when Eddy and his team of researchers from the non-profit Oregon Social Learning Center in Eugene and collaborators from a variety of other institutions around the country, including Princeton University, were awarded a grant from the NIH to launch the multi-site RCT. In the beginning, 281 children were enrolled from four Friends of the Children chapters: New York, Seattle, Boston and Portland, Ore. Children and families were invited into the study through an intensive child selection process. Half of the children were enrolled in our program, and half were not. Of note is that researchers have recent contact information for 98 percent of the original sample children in the study.

The study has included investments from public funding and private philanthropy, which is unique for RCTs. After the initial NIH investment ended, the study was then funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, the Silver Family Foundation, and numerous other regional and local funders.

“Our youth in the program who have been enrolled in the trial are starting to graduate from high school,” said Sorensen. “We will now be able to look at how Friends of the Children’s program impacted their life over the entire course of the program.”

The study will be completed and findings published after the completion of the NIH grant in 2025.