Federal cuts affect Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring

JOLIET, Ill. — Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties was recently one of 152 Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliates nationwide to receive notice that federal grant funding earmarked to serve high-risk children has been cut, effective Sept. 29, 2011.

Big Brothers Big Sisters currently provides consistent, enduring, success-focused mentoring services through a pair of three-year Mentoring Children of Prisoners grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children & Families.

In 2009, the agency received a $300,000 three-year MCP grant to serve children of incarcerated parents in Will and Grundy counties. In 2010, the agency was part of an Illinois statewide association of Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies that received a $4.5 million three-year MCP grant to serve children of incarcerated parents in Kankakee and Iroquois counties.

“We received notice that no funding was appropriated in the Fiscal Year 2011 budget to continue either of these grants,” Big Brothers Big Sisters CEO Lisa Morel Las said.

In April 2011, Congress passed — and the President signed into law — H.R.1473, which provides full-year funding for the Federal Government for FY 2011. H.R. 1473 does not include a provision for the Mentoring Children of Prisoners (MCP) program and, therefore, there was no funding appropriated to continue the MCP program.

The abrupt cancellation of the MCP program will require 152 Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies across the nation to transition or terminate services for an estimated 18,000 vulnerable children. Nationally, over 6,000 children will be dropped from the rolls unless alternate funding is identified. Approximately 4,500 MCP children are on waiting lists.

Approximately 300 Big Brothers Big Sisters employees across the United States will lose their jobs as a result of the early termination of the FY09 and FY10 MCP grants.

Locally, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties serves approximately 400 children in Will, Grundy, Kankakee and Iroquois, and approximately 100 of these matches are supported by MCP grant funding.

“We are doing all we can to transition services for the children served locally under this grant – we certainly do not want nearly 100 children to have their matches prematurely terminated,” Las explained.

“Recognizing that the premature termination of a match can cause additional harm to already vulnerable children, the board of directors and I are working on focusing resources and utilizing the remaining funds effectively,” Las added.

“Last month, we were forced to lay off employees and are identifying and searching for alternate public or private funding to prevent premature termination of matches and more layoffs in September.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters relies on donor funding to give kids who face adversity safe, screened, quality mentors and to provide the mentoring matches with long-term support to help the relationships endure and succeed.

“This financial loss will require agencies such as ours to ask donors to dig deeper in an already challenged economy in order to keep children from losing their mentors,” Las said.

The average cost per child in a Big Brothers Big Sisters program varies by geographic location and ranges from $1,000 to $3,000 per match. Most children served are those of single, low-income and incarcerated parents.

Children in Big Brothers Big Sisters MCP programs are matched, on average, for 19.4 months. Studies find programs lasting more than one-year produce positive results and those lasting less than three months can actually do more harm than good.

Las notes, “We recognize that the federal deficit must be addressed for the sake of current and future generations, but feel strongly that good programs should be separated from those that don’t work. Research shows that positive outcomes increase with the use of evidence-based practices – which is what Big Brothers Big Sisters uses.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters holds itself accountable for proven, measurable outcomes — helping children who face adversity succeed in school; avoid risky behavior and have higher aspirations and self confidence.

Studies find that, when served by Big Brothers Big Sisters, these kids and others who face serious adversity have a greater chance than their peers for having positive relationship interactions and breaking cycles of crime, poverty and school underperformance too often linked to youths in their circumstances.

“Investing in quality mentoring for at-risk children has a demonstrable return on investment. The short-term savings that will be realized with the cancellation of the MCP grants will have a lasting and negative impact on our nation and our youth,” Las said.

“We will have to spend substantially more later in the child’s life - when these same young people who could have continued to be mentored in our program – become both the perpetrators and victims of crime.”