Big Brothers, Big Sisters is a prevention program, which enhances the socialization of children through paying attention to their psychological and physical development and increasing their feeling of “being included” into community and school environment.
Due to the fact that the project is mostly directed to planning interesting leisure and education-related activities for minors, it can be interpreted as prevention program, as it creates a friendly and harmonious environment which encourages and reinforces the child’s self-esteem through establishing a symmetric communication between the minor and adult and teaching important social skills.
As for me, I believe that the program is effective, as it deals mostly with three important predictors of deviance and crime – absence of developing and diversified pastime, lack of engagement with community activities and academic failure (and the consequent loss of interest in education) in schoolchildren.
In addition, the relevant study, provided by the website, demonstrates the following results: “Researchers found that after 18 months of spending time with their Bigs, the Little Brothers and Little Sisters were: – 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs; – 27% less likely to begin using alcohol; – 52% less likely to skip school; – 37% less likely to skip a class; – more confident of their performance in schoolwork; – one-third less likely to hit someone” (at http://www. bigbrooc.
org/html/our_impact. html, 2007). There are three major curriculums, designed within the program. First of all, there is a set of community-based activities, which take place once a month. The community volunteers encourage the participants to do sports, play intellectual games, have meals together or simply take walks in the park. Group-based mentoring program includes monthly meeting of Big and Little Brothers and Sisters and learning new and unusual types of sports, associated with team playing.
For instance, the participants do kayaking, play miniature golf or team bowling. All these sports are aimed at improving the children’s concentration, dexterity, ability to plan and make joint decision within the team; as one knows from developmental psychology, the progress of physical skills is particularly sensitive to influences at teen age, when the person is actively growing. The complex of school-based activities comprises weekly sessions, during which the minors are assisted in their home assignments.
The major advantage of this program, which actually can cause in the jealousy of the similar agencies, is its image of partnership between adults and children, who receive not mentors, but friends, whose role models are more likely to be learned by minors. The typical agencies of this profile (working in the directions of prevention and diversion) more willingly involve competent specialists (in a limited number) than volunteers, so the underage target audience not always receives socialization experience and learn social skills during workshops and training.
In addition, the Big Brothers Big Sisters project manages to maintain its focus on the underage audience in all points of its curriculum and stimulates the natural and healthy socialization in minors (through communication and team activities), instead of creating artificial conditions (like those in workshops and purposeful social skills training). The goals of the Big Brothers, Big Sisters project to great extent coincide with the orientation of the whole juvenile justice system.
The major priority of the system is prevention of juvenile crimes and recidivism, but this goal is traditionally accomplished through enlightenment and education in the spheres of crime and punishment, drug addiction and alcohol use. The efforts of the program, on the other hand, are directed to improving the minors’ physical and psychological health and helping them establish friendly contact with the environment.
This model is often neglected by the juvenile justice system, so it would be beneficial to introduce the program under the management of the network of government institutions, responsible for delinquency prevention, as the idea of healthy and natural socialization is likely to become a new direction in the functioning of the juvenile justice system and the unity of accountability will provide courts will more comprehensive information about the children.
In addition, the program will also demonstrate success in the field of diversion. Finally, the program will correct the official and formalized image of the juvenile justice system and break the stereotype of the “punishing institution”. The major strength of the program is its positivist approach to prevention, which includes strengthening the minors’ social and psychological potential rather than intimidating schoolchildren about the adversities, associated with delinquency and illicit drug use.
The project embraces community work, group work and school work, so that the major environments, in which the children operate, are influenced and to some extent altered. The ultimate goal in this sense is the development of the sense of inclusion into all these environments in the participants. On the other hand, the program lacks one important components, which is family-based work.
As the website suggests, the underage participants originate from the households, where domestic violence and alcohol use are practiced. With respect to the fact that behavior models, learned in the family, are to certain degree determinative in teenagers’ behavior, it would also be useful to establish a contact between the families and the community and arrange activities, which imply the creation of a large team, consisting of children, their parents and the Bigs.
Another weakness is the lack of basic psychological education for children, as at the certain stage of their development they need theoretical knowledge of building relationships and understanding others, so the Big Brothers, Big Sisters can introduce monthly discussions of the achievements and difficulties, experienced by the participants in their relationships with coevals and adults. Reference list Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Orange County. (2007). Official website, at http://www. bigbrooc. org.