We can not thrive in isolation. For young people, relationships are vital, because they are fundamental to their development. Relationships with caring adults are especially important for young people, and yet data routinely show that they don’t experience them as often or as intensively as they should.
We are learning more about what exactly happens in that “black box” of relationships and how to move organizations toward helping young people form the relationships they need to move into a thriving adulthood.
We have identified 5 key areas of a developmental relationship.
Studies indicate that when young people experience relationships that include those five elements their outcomes are significantly better and they are more likely to be on a positive path to the future. The problem is that many young people are not on that path. They are not experiencing enough of the life-affirming elements of developmental relationships, or not experiencing them often or intensively enough, to be transformative. They are caught in what we call a relationship gap.
Search Institute partnered with the Carlson Family Foundation in 2021 to conduct the State of Relationships study to find out what’s working and what’s not in creating relationship-rich spaces for all youth. This case study explored what schools and out-of-school time (OST) programs across one state are doing to build strong youth-adult relationships.
The study findings are from Minnesota but are relevant for any organization, school, or OST program that wants to invest in a relationship-rich organization. The series focuses on four critical aspects of becoming a relationship-rich organization.
While schools and OST programs are primarily committed to the goal of being relationally-rich spaces for all youth, we have considerable work to do in creating concrete, everyday ways to turn that vision into reality. Here’s what we’re learning about relationship building.
However, staff identify a number of barriers to being truly inclusive and equitable. These barriers include differences in the backgrounds of staff and the youth they serve and larger social issues, including the effects of systemic racism. Other issues include a lack of diversity in hiring and insufficient skills among staff for providing trauma-informed care and culturally responsive programs. It is important for leaders and staff to identify what their organization is doing well and uncover areas for improvement.
The relational cultures of organizations ensure that all young people, regardless of background or circumstances, have the nurturing, support, and guidance they need to learn, grow, and thrive.
The findings from the Minnesota State of Relationships study provide opportunities for school and program staff and leaders to reflect on how they might work systematically and as individuals to create more relationship-rich, transformative spaces for the youth that they serve.