We all know intuitively that positive relationships are at the very center of a thriving life – both for kids and adults. And, thanks to hard-working social scientists, the data says so, too. In fact, the common denominator among thriving young people is strong, supportive relationships. 

“No matter the source of hardship, the single most common factor for children who end up doing well is having the support of at least one stable and committed relationship with a parent, caregiver, or other adult,” reads Harvard’s The Science of Resilience. 

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The Search Institute has been studying the kinds of connections that help us become our best selves. Developmental Relationships are relationships that help us discover who we are, develop the skills we need to live with agency, and connect and give back to others. 

When kids have a stable web of developmental relationships in their lives, they do better in school, boost their social-emotional skills, take more personal responsibility and take less risks. 

Unfortunately, 22 percent of middle and high school kids have none of these crucial connections. And 18 percent say they just have one. 

“With one in five youth reporting they have no developmental relationships, there is a sense of urgency for us, as a society, to collectively ensure all youth have access to and experience impactful relationships,” says Camp Fire Director of Program Effectiveness Nikki Roe Cropp. “There is an opportunity, if not an obligation, for those of us working with young people every day to close that gap by ensuring ALL youth have an adult to champion them.”

Camp Fire has been partnering with the Search Institute to help encourage these key developmental relationships, especially in the context of marginalized communities. Camp Fire Columbia is in its third year of investigating innovative ways to strengthen connections through the Relationships for Outcomes Initiative (ROI). The project’s goals are to design intentional, inclusive relationship-building tools and strategies and to demonstrate how those relationships can improve youth outcomes and transform lives. (Read more in our next post!)

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The project uses the Search Institute’s framework for developmental relationships—the five components of a powerfully positive connection:

  1. Express care—Show me that I matter to you.
  2. Challenge growth—Push me to keep getting better.
  3. Provide support—Help me complete tasks and achieve goals.
  4. Share power—Treat me with respect and give me a say.
  5. Expand possibilities—Connect me with people and places that broaden my world.

“The framework is very accessible,” says Nikki. “It’s arranged around five main elements expressed in 20 specific actions. Just having simple, yet explicit things to do—like help young people think through options and resources they have when they encounter obstacles—makes the possibility of actually building developmental relationships with young people all the more attainable.”

Read on to learn how Camp Fire Columbia is putting the developmental relationships framework into practice.

Want to know how you can use the developmental framework in your own life?