A Federal Method and Incentive System to Protect Children at Risk
Major Problems — 6.5% of our children are high school dropouts and the rate is far higher among minorities. Their lifetime earnings are half the level of those who graduate from high school, a difference of $150 billion/year, and only 21% of those who graduate from college.
37% of HS dropouts are on welfare or receive food stamps or Medicaid. That compares to 22% for HS graduates and 10% for those who attend some college. Welfare and food stamps cost $1.1 trillion per year.
In 2013 9.8M crimes were reported. 6.9M people were in prison or on parole. We have the world’s 2nd highest % incarceration rate. Our rate is 7–10 times the rate for leading EU countries. About 60% of our inmates are HS dropouts. 77% of prisoners return to prison within 5 years of leaving. Costs due crime and prison are $700 billion each year. According to David Shapiro, the President and CEO of MENTOR — The National Mentoring Partnership, there exists a list of 10 factors that can be used to evaluate the prospects of young children. With great accuracy, based on the results of these 10 factors, they can predict which children will end up in prison. It seems like a crime in itself to know that we could identify these children and not find a way to save them.
Current Programs — A national research organization looked at 950 boys and girls from 8 Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies. Half were randomly selected to have mentors and half were put on a waiting list for 18 months. For mentees, use of drugs and alcohol, likelihood of skipping school or classes or hitting others all declined 25–50% after just 18 months of mentoring. Other research shows a 95% improvement in education success, 55% higher odds of attending college, and 89% better ability to avoid risky behavior.
Mentoring Incidence — In 2012 there were 46M children in America ages 8–18, of whom only 15% had a formal mentor. BBBS mentored 170,000 children in 2015 and other programs also helped, but there is clearly a huge gap in coverage that needs to be addressed.
Program Flaws — The biggest flaw is that 16 million children never had a mentor, of whom over 8 million are estimated to be “at risk.” The second flaw is that many of the mentors have no structure or formal guidance. Also, mentor relationships tend to be last only 2–3 years. Finally, mentors usually are simply good hearted people who are trying to make a difference, but we have far too few such people. This all needs to change.
The Vision — There is compelling evidence that mentoring helps keep children in school, helps them avoid drugs, gangs, crime, prison, and welfare, while earning substantially higher incomes. These cost our economy over $2 trillion each year! Continuing to rely just on volunteers is not good enough.
We need a national program to recruit, train, match, and monitor millions of new mentors. It should offer mentors a long-term stake in the future success of their mentees based on the income taxes that they pay and the costs to society they avoid. If mentees drop out of high school, use drugs, join gangs and go to prison or on welfare, then mentors may earn nothing. If mentees avoid these risks and maximize their educations and careers, then over their lifetimes they may pay hundreds of thousands in income tax, and some fraction could be shared with the mentors either as direct payments or deposits into 401K plans or payments in points towards some attractive reward. Payments could also be based on key milestones, like high school graduation, entering college, graduating from college, and 10–20 years of success avoiding prison and welfare, etc.
A similar incentive program could reduce our pathetic 77% 5-year prisoner recidivism rate. Why spend $30–45K each year to keep someone in prison if we could instead spend a small fraction of that to keep them out?
We could save millions of children and trillions of dollars.