Friends of the Children, a national nonprofit based in Oregon that pairs children with salaried, professional mentors called friends for 12 or more years, has announced it will launch a Detroit chapter. Nicole McKinney has been named executive director.
“Every child in Detroit deserves the opportunity to dream big and reach their goals, but many youth face a lot of adversity that can seem impossible to overcome,” says McKinney. “With the support of a friend, I believe Detroit youth can build resilience, allowing them more choices and more opportunities. I’m incredibly honored at this opportunity and look forward to working with partners to serve the amazing children of Detroit.”
The chapter will operate in Wayne County with a focus on Detroit. It will work with partners to select children as early as age 4 who are living in high-poverty neighborhoods and have experiences or are at risk of experiencing foster care and other adverse childhood experiences. About 78 percent of Detroit youth live in high-poverty neighborhoods.
Each child will be paired with a friend whose full-time job will include spending four hours a week with each child at school and in the community. Friends will work with the youth through a trauma-informed lens that is culturally responsive and provides social-emotional and academic support.
“I am so pleased that Nicole will be leading our Detroit chapter, because I know she is committed to Friends of the Children’s mission and has the experience needed to make the chapter successful,” says Terri Sorensen, CEO of Friends of the Children. “We are also incredibly grateful to the many local champions and funders who made it possible for us to serve children in Detroit.”
The chapter will also implement a two-generation approach in which they will work with the parents of youth in the program to build parenting skills.
According to a Kids Count report published by the Michigan League for Public Policy in 2019, one in five children in Michigan have experienced two or more adverse childhood experiences. The same report showed that the number of confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect in Detroit rose by 84 percent since 2010, while the number of youth experiencing foster care in Detroit increased by nearly 55 percent.
A third-party evaluation of Friends of the Children program graduates showed that 83 percent of youth obtain a high school diploma or GED while 93 percent remain free from juvenile justice system involvement. About 98 percent wait to parent until after their teen years, and 92 percent of graduates go on to enroll in post-secondary education, serve in the military, or enter the workforce.
Local organizations worked with the organization to raise $1.5 million to bring the chapter to the city. The private funds came through support from AT&T, the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, the McGregor Fund, the Stand Together Foundation, the Jamie and Denise Jacob Family Foundation, and individual donors including basketball legend Michael Jordan.
The chapter has received letters of support from the Detroit mayor’s Office of Children and Youth Services, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Detroit Public Schools Community District, and Franklin-Wright Settlements Inc.
The Friends of the Children model is in its 12th year of a randomized-controlled trial. Early results show that improved behavior of youth in the program helped parents have more positive perceptions of their children, which is considered a protective factor against child maltreatment. Another study of the model funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation showed that both youth and their parents benefited from the presence of friends in their children’s lives.
McKinney previously worked for United Way for 19 years, most recently serving as the work-based learning director for United Way for Southeastern Michigan. She is on the Birmingham Public Schools Board and was appointed to the state of Michigan Teacher Tenure Commission in August 2019 by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. She holds a bachelor’s degree in management and organizational development and a master’s degree in business administration.
The Detroit chapter is building a local board of directors and hiring staff.