Search Institute Developmental Assets and the M Power Program

Our girls empowerment programs are designed to target youth girls living in the region of Halton. There are unique challenges being faced in the northern region of Halton as programming is scarce and a number of barriers exist that prevent girls from being able to participate in community activities. M Power is working hard to help our youth girls overcome those obstacles.

M Power is working closely with the Town of Halton Hills and the Department of Recreation, specifically those leaders working in children and youth programming, to ensure our program falls in line with municipal expectations and delivery standards.

One method used to benchmark our program objectives is by way of the Developmental Assets Framework, designed by the Search Institute.

Search Institute- What is it?

The Search Institute was established in 1958 as a way to use social science to assess youth development and success. Since 1990, over 6 million youth across the United States and the globe have participated in numerous studies. The findings from these studies have resulted in over 30 books and 150 journal articles addressing youth development.

The Developmental Assets Framework outlines the essential assets young people should possess in order to have a strong foundation. This foundation will have a positive  impact on outcomes for youth throughout adulthood.

Thes Developmental Assets Framework, although originally created in the United States, has become a highly regarded method for assessing youth development and is currently being utilized in 33 countries and has been translated to 29 different languages.

This well respected document has become a staple in steering youth programming in the region of Halton and the province of Ontario to ensure that our youth are meeting their full potential in all areas of life.

Why are the Developmental Assets Important?

The Search Institute has listed 40 developmental assets, divided into two categories:

  1. “External Assets”- the supports, opportunities and relationships young people need across all aspects of their lives.

  2. “Internal Assets”- person skills, self perceptions, values they need to make good choices, take responsibility for their own lives and to be independent and fulfilled.

Although these attributes may seem to be common wisdom about strengths and supports that young people need, there has been extensive research that shows just how profound of an influence they have on youth behaviour.

When youth have more assets (of the 40 listed in the framework) they are:

  • More likely to thrive now and in the future

  • Less likely to engage in high risk behaviour

  • More resilient in the face of challenges

In fact, these assets were evaluated in conjunction with:

  1. Reducing Risk

  2. Thriving

Reducing Risk and the Framework

The Search Institute identified 24 risky behaviours. They measured the correlation between youth engagement in high risk behaviours and the number of assets they possessed.

It was determined that those who had 0-10 assets (of the 40 listed in the framework) engage in 7.7 of the 24 risky behaviours. Those youth who had 31-40 assets engaged in only 0.7 of the risky behaviours.

Risky Behaviours:

  • Alcohol

  • Tobacco

  • Inhalants

  • Marijuana

  • Other drug use

  • Drinking and driving

  • Sexual intercourse

  • Anti-social behaviour

  • Violence

  • School truancy

  • Gambling

  • Eating disorders

  • Depression

  • Attempted suicide

Promote Thriving and the Framework

There was an additional correlation made between assets and the thriving attitudes and behaviours in young people as a result of this framework. The Search Institute identified 8 thriving indicators. It was determined that those young people who possessed only 0-10 assets demonstrated only 2.2 (on average) of the 8 thrive indicators. Those who had 31-40 identified assets demonstrated 6.1 (on average) of the 8 indicators.

8 Thrive Indicators:

  • Succeed in school

  • Help others

  • Value diversity

  • Maintain good health

  • Exhibit leadership

  • Resist danger

  • Delay gratification

  • Overcame adversity

The 40 Developmental Assets


  • Family Support - family life provides high levels of love and support.

  • Positive family communication- youth are willing to seek out the advice of a parent, positive communication.

  • Other adult relationships- support from 3 or more non parent adults.

  • Caring neighbourhood.

  • Caring school environment- encouraging.

  • Parent involvement in school- actively involved in helping the young person succeed.

Empowerment- Feel valued and valuable. Happens when youth feel safe and respected.

  • Community values youth- youth perceives that adults value them.

  • Youth as resources- youth feel as though they serve as a resource.

  • Service to others- serves in the community 1 or more hour per week.

  • Safety- young person feels safe at home, school and in the neighbourhood.

Boundaries and Expectations- young people need clear rules, consistent consequences and encouragement to do their best.

  • Family boundaries- clear rules and consequences, monitors youth whereabouts.

  • School boundaries

  • Neighbourhood boundaries

  • Adult role models- positive, responsible behaviour

  • Positive peer influence- best friends model responsible behaviour

  • High expectations of the young person

Constructive Use of Time- needs opportunities out of school to learn new skills and interests with other youth and adults.

  • Creative activities- 3 or more hours of music, theatre or arts per week

  • Youth programs- 3 or more hours

  • Religious community

  • Time at home - fewer than 2 nights per week where they have unscheduled free time with friends outside of the home without anything significant going on.

Commitment to Learning- need a sense of lasting importance and belief in own abilities.

  • Achievement oriented

  • School engagement- actively engaged in learning

  • Homework - 1 or more hour per school night of homework

  • Bonding to school- cares about their school

  • Reading for pleasure- 3 or more hours per week

Positive Values- develop strong guiding values

  • Caring

  • Equality and social justice- places high value on promoting equality, decreased hunger and poverty

  • Integrity

  • Honesty- “tells the truth even when it’s not easy”

  • Responsibility - accepts and takes personal responsibility

  • Restraint - young person believes it is important not to be sexually active, uses drugs or alcohol.

Social Competencies- skills to interact effectively with others, make a difficult decisions, and cope with new situations.

  • Planning and decision making- knows how to plan and make choices.

  • Interpersonal competency- empathy, sensitivity and friendship skill.

  • Cultural competency- knowledge and comfort of those with a different cultural, racial or ethnic background.

  • Resistance skills- can resist negative peer pressure and dangerous situations.

  • Peaceful conflict resolution

Positive Identity- young people need to believe in their own self worth and feel in control.

  • Personal power- have control over “things that happen to me”

  • Self-esteem- high self-esteem

  • Sense of purpose- “my life has purpose”

  • Positive view of personal future- optimistic.

How does M Power use the Developmental Assets Framework?

Essentially, we ensure that each part of our program feeds and develops one of these 40 assets. We examine each topic discussion, activity, and project and determine which asset(s) it is helping to cultivate in a young person.

It is my role as a program director to make sure that our initiative is bringing real value to the lives of the girls living in our community. I want to deliver program content that is powerful, impactful and resonates with girls, no matter their background.

Each and every  girl should be provided the same opportunities regardless of family dynamics, social circle, academic or athletic success or family income. I want all girls to be on an even playing field when it comes to their future. Every girl should be equally as confident in taking steps to ensure success and happiness as they transition into the adult years. For that reason, I  want to ensure that our program fosters personal growth and strength while instilling values and strategies to provide every opportunity to thrive, regardless of what challenges are encountered.

Developing a program that falls in line with the research surrounding the Developmental Assets Framework means that M Program is comprehensive, evidence based and has the girls best interests as a priority during all stages of program research, development and evaluation.

For more information about Search Institute and their research, please visit