Our model is distinct, courageous and proven. We have redefined the youth mentoring field by creating the first and only long-term professional mentoring program in the country. Our Friends are experts in building sustained and nurturing relationships with youth. We specialize in working with youth who have faced a lot of adversity. We have the data to show that it's real and it works.
Our model was founded on research showing that the single most important factor in overcoming childhood adversity is a long-term, nurturing relationship with a consistent and caring adult. Research over the past three decades continues to affirm how much these relationships matter.
Our trauma-informed, long-term mentoring model is now being sought after by communities and systems around the country and the world. They recognize that children who've experienced a lot of adversity need more specialized and long-term mentoring relationships that Friends of the Children–Chicago provides.
The Generational Change Model
We select children who could most benefit from a relationship with a long-term professional mentor.
Like all children, the youth we serve have unique talents, varied interests and big dreams. Unlike other programs, we exclusively focus on children who are also facing systemic obstacles and who have lived through a lot of trauma. Our youth have experienced multiple adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) by the time they reach kindergarten. We partner with community organizations, schools and foster care systems to help us identify children ages 4 to 6 who could most benefit from a relationship with a Friend.
We hire and train full-time paid professional mentors called Friends.
Our Friends' full-time job is to empower and support youth and their caregivers. Moving mentorship out of the volunteer realm is key to getting the quality, consistency and commitment our children and their families deserve in the relationship. Each Friend works with eight to ten youth, spending three to four hours every week with or on behalf of each child.
We commit for the long term.
We commit to every child for the long term, from kindergarten through graduation. 12+ years, no matter what.
Our work is relationship-based, individualized and intentional.
Each child gets a dedicated, one-on-one Friend who spends a minimum of 14 to 16 intentional hours per month with them. Friends and youth set goals and design activities that advance those goals and build life skills. Friends create meaningful experiences to explore each child's unique talents and interests. Friends of the Children has developed nine research-based Core Assets, which are specific qualities we focus on to ensure the social and emotional development of our youth.
We work with youth in school, at home and in the community.
We take a whole-child approach because we understand that lived experiences, home environment, systems, community and culture shape how a child develops and learns. Friends serve as a link between the different areas of a child's life to create stability and consistency – spending time in school as an advocate and support; time in their neighborhood to build connection and community; and time at home, becoming a trusted resource to the youth and their caregivers.
We evaluate, measure and improve.
We are equal parts head and heart. Data from Friends, youth and caregivers help us continuously improve and do our best day-to-day work. Ongoing third-party research and evaluation drive program improvement and innovation. Right now, our model is the focus of an ongoing longitudinal randomized-controlled trial–the longest of its kind–run by researchers from the University of Washington and New York University.
Friends of the Children has developed nine research-based Core Assets, which are specific qualities we focus on to ensure the social and emotional development of our youth. With our nine Core Assets in place, we believe our youth will enter adulthood with a solid foundation for future success.
I love learning and know that my abilities will improve through dedication and effort.
I understand who I am, have a place where I feel accepted and know that my contributions count.
When I have tough times, I believe it can get better.
I know how to weigh the pros and cons and make a decision.
Perseverance & Grit
I work hard through challenges and finish what I start.
I know how to manage my feelings and take care of myself in a healthy way.
I believe in myself and am able to set goals and achieve them.
Find Your Spark
I use creativity to explore my passions.
Positive Relationship Building
I get along well with others and am able to find people to support me.
A Friend In Action
We call our professional mentors Friends because it isn't just a job. They are forming meaningful relationships with our youth that last for years.
Friends support and empower youth by:
Spending time with or on behalf of the child in school – working with teachers, advocating for individualized academic plans and empowering older youth to advocate for themselves.
Creating connections – with other youth who share their interests or to resources in their own communities.
Exploring their interest and sharing in new experiences, through trips to museums, visiting the library or taking an art class.
Connecting youth to opportunities, like internships, scholarships and informational interviews.
Helping a child identify coping skills, regulate emotions and find constructive outlets for stress and frustration.
Being a consistent adult in a child's life as they move from placement to placement in the foster care system.
Friends support and empower parents/caregivers by:
Proving social and emotional support, along with helpful tips that support positive parenting.
Being present during a crisis.
Helping plan regular trips to the doctor.
Letting them know about special education services available at their child's school and empowering them to advocate for those services.
Building social capital and expanding their networks through family engagement events.
Connecting them to concrete supports–like housing and education/employment pathways–and helping them fill out applications, get appointments and otherwise overcome barriers to participation.
It makes economic sense.
The Harvard Business School Association of Oregon showed that for every $1 invested in Friends of the Children, the community benefits over $7 in saved social costs. Helping one child saves the community $900,000.