Friends of the Children is working to address our nation's unprecedented youth mental health crisis. We provide children facing the greatest obstacles with a paid, professional mentor, called a Friend, from kindergarten through high school - 12+ years, no matter what. For over 30 years, our model has specialized in serving children and families with significant barriers to access - including children of color and children in rural communities. Friends provide trauma-informed and culturally responsive services for 3-4 hours each week at home, at school, and in the community, promoting protective capacities and expanding the continuum of mental health support.
EXPANDING THE CONTINUUM OF SUPPORT
Investment in paid, professional mentoring will increase the number of youth receiving evidence-based mental health and trauma mitigation services while also reducing the burden on existing systems of care.
The Friends of the Children model improves the mental, emotional, and behavioral health of youth in our program. Friends are equipped to promote well-being and to intervene when mental health challenges occur.
We want every child in our program to recognize their own unique abilities, have the skills to navigate life's challenges, succeed in school, and have a plan for the future. Unfortunately, exposure to adversity - poverty, violence, substance use in the home - can increase the risk of experiencing a mental health challenge. By the time we meet them between the ages of 4-6, children in our program have experienced on average four adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Our paid, professional mentors represent the communities and experiences of the youth they serve. Using a strengths-based approach, Friends also work to ensure that children enrolled in our program know who they are and have the tools not just to survive but to thrive.
Throughout a young person’s 12+ years in our program, Friends work within an intentional framework that includes structured relationship-building and pro-social skill building activities. In the younger years, Friends help children process emotions, work through change and practice coping skills that promote healing. As youth get older, Friends create safe spaces for youth to feel seen. They also build community through activities, community engagement and peer connections.
Friends are highly trained and supervised. Leveraging evidence-based practices from child and adolescent-mental health, Friends implement actionable strategies to support youth with mental health challenges –– everything from practicing tools that promote self-regulation and safety to increasing access to specialized supports when needed. They also increase engagement for young people who need services but who might otherwise be reluctant to access them. Friends across our network consult regularly with clinical practitioners who provide real-time coaching in their work supporting the mental health of youth and families.
With the help of Friends of the Children’s 1:1 professional mentoring, we know that:
In 2022 – coming through the hardest years of the pandemic – Friends report that the majority of youth in the program made progress toward feelings of HOPE (When I have tough times, I believe it can get better) and BELONGING (I understand who I am, have a place where I feel accepted, and know that my contributions count).
Due to the pandemic and her family’s overall distrust of systems, Sarah* and her siblings no longer attend public school and have limited opportunities to leave home. In addition to being socially isolated, Sarah has experienced symptoms of depression. The Friends of the Children -Klamath Basin clubhouse has become a safe space for Sarah, and her main place of connection with peers, supportive adults and the community. In addition to her time individually with her Friend, Sarah attends a peer-to-peer mental health support night twice a month called “Head Space.” Through her time at the clubhouse, she also has become a leader that younger children in the program look up to. Even when Sarah has a hard day, her mom prioritizes her time with her Friend, recognizing the benefit it has to Sarah’s mental health.
*The name of the youth has been changed for privacy