Testimony of Pam Iorio, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America to the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice – May 7, 2020
Chairman Keith and Commissioners, I am Pam Iorio, the president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. I appreciate this opportunity to testify before this Commission about our one-to- one mentoring model and innovative law enforcement mentoring that speaks to the Commission’s goals of reducing crime, reducing the number of youths involved in the juvenile justice system, and growing understanding and respect for law enforcement.
Since 1904, Big Brothers Big Sisters has been using the power of one-to-one mentoring relationships to help children reach their full potential. Our mission is to create and support one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth. We have been devoted to changing the life trajectories of vulnerable youth since the program was first founded as a court diversion program in New York City. We call our volunteer mentors “Bigs” and the young people they mentor, “Littles.”
In 2019, BBBSA agencies served more than 135,000 Littles across the country. Of these, 73% were eligible for free lunch; 15% had one or more parents incarcerated, and 57% were being raised in a single-parent home; 35% live with a family member experiencing mental health concerns; 26% have a family member struggling with substance abuse. Our programs are evidence-based, and our data shows that mentoring builds key social and emotional skills youth need to succeed in academics, career, and life.
The one-to-one mentoring model works and should be endorsed to prevent young people from entering the juvenile justice system.
Our one-to-one mentoring model is designed to promote emotional support, positive social skills and behaviors, feelings of safety and security, academic skills, and positive relationships with family and peers. Research on our Community-Based Mentoring Program has shown that overall, youth enrolled in Big Brothers Big Sisters programs are 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27% less likely to begin using alcohol, and 52% less likely to skip school. Over the past 10 years BBBSA has served a total of 2,689,388 youth with caring adult mentors, changing the trajectory of young people’s lives for the better funding for OJJDP mentoring programs should be expanded.
We receive yearly funding from OJJDP which is allocated to our agencies to make matches, carefully vetted and professionally supported, between adult mentors and their mentees. With this grant funding received from OJJDP, we were able to offer impactful mentoring to over 7,900 youth in the last year. When you consider the annual cost of juvenile incarceration of $35,000-$64,000 compared to Big Brothers Big Sisters annual cost of $1800 to serve each youth, the potential savings from successful mentoring is billions of dollars.
Bigs in Blue/Bigs in Badges should be a robust, national program and encouraged on the state and local level.
A few years ago, concerned about the increasing tensions in many communities between police and the communities they serve, we took a local BBBS program that connected law enforcement with young people in a one-to-one mentoring model, and scaled it nationwide. Bigs in Blue/Bigs with Badges has grown from fewer than 20 agencies to 103 agencies in 35 states across the country. Mentors come from the ranks of the local police and sheriff departments to the FBI, Highway Patrol, and other law enforcement entities and court officials.
If the only time a child sees a law enforcement officer in their community is to make an arrest of a neighbor or family member, there begins a lifetime of distrust. But when a police officer becomes a Big Brother or Sister to a young person, taking an interest in his or her life and future, the attitude can change. We have seen so many instances of real friendships forming, not just with the young person, but with entire families.
In my former life as Mayor of the City of Tampa, our Police Chief at the time, Chief Hogue, was a Big Brother. His Little Brother was nine years old and lived in one of the most economically challenged communities in the city. One day, when talking about career choices, the Chief gave his Little his Chief’s cap to keep. The Little’s mother called the Chief to tell him that every night her son slept next to the Chief’s cap and now wanted to be a police officer.
In Florida, Attorney General Ashley Moody is a strong supporter of Bigs in Blue and has formally asked all statewide law enforcement officials to become mentors. That kind of leadership, if multiplied across the country, could make a significant difference in our police/community relations.
Virtual mentoring initiatives should be encouraged and supported during this pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic is changing so many aspects of our lives. Our organization is all about the strength of each relationship, and the many activities our matches enjoy. Social distancing is making it difficult for our Bigs and Littles to be together. But it has not stopped the creativity and innovative spirit of the BBBS Federation.
The National Office is currently building an e-mentoring platform to be integrated into our national database that tracks the progress of each match. This will be done in mid-June and will open many more possibilities for Bigs and Littles to engage virtually. Making new matches, and keeping current matches together, and doing so in a safe, virtual environment, takes expertise and skill. BBBSA has been a leader in the industry in providing safe, effective mentoring programming through our affiliate network, partnering closely with organizations like the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to address evolving technology-based safety risks to children and youth.
Commissioners, I thank you for the time and the interest you are demonstrating by serving on this important Commission and listening to this and other testimony.
- The one-to-one mentoring model works and should be endorsed to prevent young people from entering the juvenile justice system.
- Funding for OJJDP mentoring programs should be expanded.
- Bigs in Blue/Bigs in Badges should be a robust, national program and encouraged on the state and local level.
- Virtual mentoring initiatives should be encouraged and supported during this pandemic.
All of us have the capacity to ignite and defend the potential of young people. It is a privilege for me to represent an organization that reflects this can-do spirit of America, and to see the positive results. We can do more. Each year we have tens of thousands of young people on our waiting lists at agencies throughout the county, hoping to be matched with a Big Brother or a Big Sister. As you continue your worthwhile work, which will undoubtably result in positive changes, I hope you will include the mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters as part of the solution.