Government urged to save Ireland’s first youth work programme proven to work

Foróige-Notinuse's picture
Foróige-Notinuse May 29, 2013

Big Brother Big Sister youth mentoring programme gives vulnerable teenagers a stronger chance to succeed in life. Foróige, Ireland’s leading youth organisation, is today calling on the Government to save its youth mentoring programme, Big Brother Big Sister, from virtual closure. It comes after a two-year independent study found the programme to be an “extremely valuable, low cost intervention for young people who need support”. The programme is the first youth work programme in Ireland proven to work. Big Brother Big Sister is an internationally recognised youth mentoring programme that forms supportive friendships for vulnerable young people with a caring adult mentor inspiring them to brighter futures.

More than 3,200 young people are currently supported by mentors though the programme. “There is a funding shortfall of €600,000. The Government seems happy to forego the bond between thousands of mentors and young people supported through Big Brother Big Sister in Ireland,” said Foróige CEO Seán Campbell.

“A programme that benefits vulnerable young people in our society will be forced into virtual hibernation over the coming months. We’re urging the Government to invest in young people today and save millions in State costs in the future,” he continued. The Big Brother Big Sister programme is currently funded by a mix of Philanthropic and State funding. Philanthropic funding, which has funded the programme almost in its entirety for the last 7 years, runs out at the end of 2013 meaning that, if Government do not step up to the plate, the programme will be significantly scaled back next year. The funding shortfall will also result in the loss of 11 youth work jobs.
“This would mean an unthinkable 80% drop in the number of young people the programme will be able to reach.” In 2011, the Government provided a commitment to work with Foróige to help secure the future of the Big Brother Big Sister programme when Philanthropic funding for the programme came to an end – to date, no commitment has been secured.

“We are urging the Government to live up to its promise. Without its support, more than 2,500 vulnerable young people will lose the support of their mentor, not to mention those who will never get the opportunity to have a Big Brother or Big Sister in their lives and all of the opportunities that this offers. If we don’t get a financial commitment from Government in the next three months, we will have no choice but to begin closing our mentoring matches.

“Surely at a time when we, as a country, are prioritising the protection of our children and young people and looking for low cost, but effective interventions for them, the Big Brother Big Sister programme makes perfect economic and social sense,” Mr Campbell concluded.

The Big Brother Big Sister Programme is the first youth programme in Ireland to have proven effective outcomes for young people who face challenging circumstances in their lives.

The youth mentoring programme currently costs €900,000 a year to run in Ireland. Young people are referred to the Big Brother Big Sister Programme through a variety of sources including the HSE, schools and parents. The two-year ‘Randomised Control Trial Study of the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) Youth Mentoring Programme in Ireland’ was carried out by Child and Family Research Centre in NUI Galway, led by UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement, Professor Pat Dolan. The study - the first of its kind carried out on a youth programme in Ireland – shows that the Big Brother Big Sister mentoring programme positively impacts on young people’s emotional well-being and perceptions of the support available to them. The research team concluded that the programme ‘is an extremely valuable, low cost intervention for young people who need extra support’. There were also very promising trends in relation to drug and alcohol prevention, social acceptance, school liking and plans for school and college completion for young people involved in the programme. In total, 164 young people participated in the study across a two year period.

The findings of the Irish study confirm those of previous international studies which have shown that mentoring is highly beneficial for the young people taking part (DuBois et al, 2002; Tierney et al, 1995). The analyses also suggest that young people from one parent families derived particular benefit from the programme, suggesting that the intervention can play a role in increasing the support available to young people not living with both parents. The study also found that matches that meet regularly and last for a minimum of 12 months have stronger outcomes.

Foróige CEO Séan Campbell spoke about the situation on Mid West Radio. He was also interviewed by the RTÉ 1 Drivetime programme.