About This Program
Target Population: Youth aged 6 to 21 years who are currently in or have been in the child welfare system
For children/adolescents ages: 6 – 21
BEST Kids currently develops and supports one-on-one mentoring relationships between foster care youth and caring, consistent adults. The program ensures that these adult mentors are well-supported, well-trained volunteers who can provide long-term mentoring designed to help youth thrive in school, the workplace, and the community. The program combines one-on-one interactions with monthly educational peer group activities to help enrolled children achieve the goals of improved academic performance, enhanced social and life skills, and more responsible decision making. BEST Kids’ cadre of staff, board members, and advisers includes psychiatrists, psychologists, university professors, educators, and other leading advocates for at-risk youth. DC’s Children and Family Services Agency (CFSA) partners with BEST Kids to refer youth in the city’s foster care system to the mentoring program.
The goals for BEST Kids are:
- Improving academic achievement
- Building emotional and social well-being
- Decreasing participation in risky behaviors
- Increasing independent living skills and career readiness
The essential components of BEST Kids include:
- Partnership with the social services agencies (ideally the government child welfare agency) which is necessary so that qualifying youth are referred. All of the youth are referred by their social workers in the child welfare system and have had a finding of abuse or neglect.
- Mentors are entirely volunteer and do not receive any stipend for their mentoring. They are given an annual limit on how much they can spend on gifts for their mentee and encouraged only to do so at special occasions.
- Mentors receive an initial training and on-going quarterly trainings to learn about supplemental action they can take to support their mentees.
- Youth and mentors together engage in experiential learning activities in monthly peer groups. Mentors demonstrate appropriate social behavior and youth can practice social behavior at these events in addition to broadening their horizons through the organized activity.
- Full-time staff provides intensive match support and supervision to ensure that the entirely volunteer mentor population has all the resources they need to support their youth and that the match is safe for all involved. Staff-mentor contact is made at minimum on a monthly basis and usually weekly or bi-weekly with each mentor.
- Staff and mentors develop relationships with caregivers and other service-providers to engage in a team-based approach to mentee support.
- Mentoring continues for the youth past the age of 11 and until he/she reaches adulthood as long as the youth and the caregiver want to be a part of a program; the status of their case in the child welfare system is irrelevant to this service being provided.
- Each staff member has 40 mentor-mentee matches on their caseload. Staff meets with each of their mentees on a monthly basis to ensure the quality and advancement of the relationship.
- Mentors spend an average of ten hours a month with their mentee and engage in weekly contact. A phone call or letter can be made in lieu of weekly contact, but weekly in-person contact is encouraged.
- The success of relationships is measured through multiple scales: the Best Kids Mentor-Youth Survey, a Youth Outcomes Survey, and school grades. All are expected to improve over time with mentoring.
- Peer Groups of approximately 20 youth (attended with their mentors and divided by age of youth) and one-on-one mentoring time are held in areas around the Washington, DC, Metropolitan area. All youth are picked up at their current placement (foster, kinship, or birth home, generally) and then taken out into the community to engage with their mentors. Activities at the mentee’s home are strongly discouraged and activities at the mentor’s home are forbidden.
BEST Kids directly provides services to children/adolescents and addresses the following:
- Academic problems, social problems, lack of proper development, difficulty making the cognitive assumptions (such as building and maintaining trusting relationships), learning disabilities, psychiatric diagnoses, often changing prescriptions, and unstable family conditions and experiencing abuse and neglect
Services Involve Family/Support Structures:
This program involves the family or other support systems in the individual's treatment: Mentors work with caregivers and other service providers toward shared goals to benefit the youth. Caregivers are the main lifeline for a mentor to their mentee, and mentors regularly attempt to build relationships with the caregiver that will create a team atmosphere, giving the mentees an even stronger support system. A staff member sends monthly reports to Social Workers detailing the mentoring activities from the previous month and attends team meetings; these reports are often used in court and other meetings that help decide the future of a family. Overall, mentors and staff work hard to engage caregivers, social workers, educators, lawyers, and other service providers in an effort to build a stronger support network for the mentee.
All mentors are required to spend at least ten hours a month and make weekly contact with their mentee. It is very important that the mentors are consistent and reliable as the youth in the program often have many adults coming in and out of their lives. Peer Group activities are monthly and are usually 3-5 hours long. The recommended average length of contact for the individual matches is 15 minutes for phone interactions and 3-5 hours for in-person interactions. Ideally, mentors are not only making weekly contact, but are making weekly in-person contact. This allows the mentor to really gain the trust of the mentee and the mentee to further develop his or her ideas of social norms.
Mentors commit to a minimum of one year. Nearly all of the mentor/mentee matches are sustained for at least 12 months; many matches continue well beyond this one-year time period, and a new match is established whenever a departing mentor must be replaced.
This program is typically conducted in a(n):
- Community Daily Living Setting
This program does not include a homework component.
Resources Needed to Run Program
The typical resources for implementing the program are:
The activities that are planned each month vary greatly but typically a space should be able to accommodate 30-40 people for each peer group. For day-to-day work, each staff needs a computer and a smartphone as staff spend a significant amount of time in the field and need to be easily reachable by their mentors at all times.
Education and Training
Prerequisite/Minimum Provider Qualifications
Because of the challenges associated with working with youth in the child welfare system, it is imperative that staff and mentors have access to child psychologists/psychiatrists who can provide support and answers in extreme situations. BEST Kids does this by having a volunteer Advisory Board full of members who make themselves available as needed to mentors and staff. Staff members need to have prior work experience working with urban youth or in volunteer management. Having experience working with foster kids is the most important qualification needed, with psychological academic background and volunteer management skills coming second to that.
Education and Training Resources
There is a manual that describes how to implement this program , and there is training available for this program.
- Krislyn Mossman, MA
BEST Kids, Inc.
phone: (202) 397-2999
fax: (202) 397-5437
Training is obtained:
Limited consultation is available upon request.
Number of days/hours:
Limited consultation is available upon request.
Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research
Currently, there are no published, peer-reviewed research studies for BEST Kids.
No reference materials are currently available for BEST Kids.
Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed by CEBC: October 2013
Date Program Content Last Reviewed by Program Staff: February 2018
Date Program Originally Loaded onto CEBC: April 2012