June 30, 2023

Five Friends Of The Children Chapters Selected To Participate In A University Of Notre Dame Leo Study

Friends of the Children’s mentoring model is unique not only because it empowers youth with paid, professional mentors for 12+ years no matter what, but also because it is evidence-based. Since the organization’s founding 30 years ago, we continue to measure the impact of our program on families throughout the country through rigorous research and data.

Friends of the Children’s second longitudinal study will be led by the University of Notre Dame’s prestigious Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO). Five Friends of the Children chapters will participate in a six-year randomized controlled trial (RTC) study to examine the generational impact of supporting entire families through long-term professional mentoring—Friends of the Children’s “2Gen” approach. The chapters involved in this RTC are: Friends – Tacoma, Friends – Fargo/Moorehead, Friends – LA, Friends – Central Oregon, and Friends – Western Montana. Approximately 650 caregivers will be enrolled in the study through annual cohorts over three years.

“A randomized controlled trial is the gold standard for evidence-based practice,” said Heather Reynolds, Managing Director of LEO. “We look forward to exploring Friends of the Children’s impact on preventing child welfare system involvement, reducing the length of stay in foster care, supporting caregivers in creating family stability and improving access to family support services that increase economic mobility.”

LEO’s emphasis on evidence-based policy change aligns with Friends of the Children’s goals for the study as well: positive results could lead more policy makers to invest in children having a Friend. This past April, Erinn Kelley-Siel, chief expansion officer at Friends of the Children – National, presented at the Outsmarting Poverty conference with the co-founders of LEO about this emerging study. The presentation was meant to encourage more researchers and program partners to commit to evaluation of programs to help move people out of poverty, using Friends of the Children as a case study around how to manage through some of the common challenges (such as randomization of families and building staff buy-in for rigorous evaluation).

In addition to the generous partnership with LEO, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and the Wilson Sheehan Foundation have both invested in the study, which explores the impact our 2Gen approach has as a trauma mitigation strategy for caregivers and their families. Specifically, we want to show that our approach helps families develop protective factors that decrease instances of involvement with the child welfare system–factors such as parental resilience and skill-building, support for social, emotional, and physical needs, and economic mobility. Improvements in these protective factors also positively impact our intermediate and long-term outcomes for children in our program.

Earlier research funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2018, showed that the presence of a Friend in a child’s life benefits the entire family. In 2020, independent researchers from ICF surveyed caregivers about how the 2Gen approach has affected their lives and the lives of their children, with promising early results. Results from this 2Gen RCT are expected in 2028. The first RCT was launched in 2007 to explore the long term outcomes over 14 years for youth who participate in the program. The results of that Young Adult RCT will be released in 2026.