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Developmental Relationships Framework for Resilience

Posted on August 29, 2023 at 11:42 AM by Elizabeth Hornbach

Photo of Dr Houltberg and General Phelka at the 2023 National ConferenceDr. Ben Houltberg, National Conference keynote speaker and highlight of the 2023 Youth Development Conference, will be back in September to deliver a virtual session to help us understand how to help young people grow and thrive, especially in the face of adversity. Register here.

A common mistake that people make is to view resilience as an individual mindset or attribute… resilience requires access to resources and relationships that meet the basic developmental needs of feeling seen, heard, valued and safe in the face of adversity. This requires us to think about resilience as a shared responsibility,” says Dr. Houltberg in a recent blog article.  

The Search Institute, a leading research-based nonprofit committed to positive youth development and advancing equity, has spent the last decade focusing on the Developmental Relationships Framework, which focuses on five key elements, encompassing 20 specific actions that help adults create a space for youth to develop the skills that lead to resilience.

What are Developmental Relationships?

The Search Institute defines developmental relationships as "close connections with adults, near-peers, and peers that help young people cultivate their abilities to shape their own lives, build resilience, and thrive.” 

These relationships offer a place for youth to “discover who they are, gain abilities to shape their own lives, and learn how to interact with and contribute to the world around them.” 

Youth programs, including the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program, are spaces where youth can feel seen, known and valued. We have a unique opportunity to impact the lives of young people in a way that helps them be successful in all areas of their life, not just in CAP. According to recent research, when youth experience developmental relationships, they are more likely to display:

  • leadership

  • A sense of personal responsibility

  • increased social-emotional growth and learning

  • ambition to set goals and stretch themselves to reach goals

  • a willingness to take on challenges

  • emotional competence

  • a connection to their learning

These are all areas that we hope to see grow in our cadets. CAP has a unique organizational structure with a rank hierarchy and chain of command, which can create barriers for fostering developmental relationships. This will require us to work even harder to establish relationship building as a norm in our program. We need to be intentional about creating spaces, activities, opportunities for youth and adults to interact in a meaningful way. Is that effort worth it?

In their research, the Search Institute has discovered a gap in how youth perceive their relationships, vs how adults perceive the relationships. A survey of about 15,000 youth and 700 adults discovered that while 83% of adults felt they were being intentional about building developmental relationships, only 46% of youth reported experiencing developmental relationships. One in five youth reported having no strong relationships, and that number is even less in marginalized communities. (Developmental Relationships Help Young People Thrive) 

We know the importance of these relationships to the development and wellbeing of our youth. The time it takes to be intentional in developing these relationships is worth it in the outcome. Cadets in today’s society are struggling to experience these close connections, likely, more than any other generation. This is an important focus for our Cadet Programs Officers.

So how do we do it? How do we create these developmental relationships?

The Five Elements

The Developmental Relationships Framework is made of up five areas, each with specific, practical actions an adult can take to foster that particular area.


Graphic of the 5 components of the framework. visit the link for better accessibility.

Document created by the Search Institute

Developmental relationships are the roots of thriving and resilient young people. Through these relationships, young people discover who they are, cultivate abilities to shape their own lives, and learn how to engage with, and contribute to, the world around them.

Learn More!

Join us on 13 September for a virtual session with Dr. Ben Houltberg as he inspires us and helps us to understand developmental relationships, and how we can go about creating them in our program. The session is open to all who would like to gain an understanding of our cadets and their needs. Please share with your friends and register now! Register Here!

For more information on Developmental Relationships, visit the 2023 YDC Resources webpage


Dr. Ben Holtberg headshotDr. Ben Houltberg Ph.D, LMFT and President & CEO of the Search Institute is a developmental scientist, former tenured faculty member, social entrepreneur, and experienced marriage and family therapist. He is widely published on topics such as adolescent social and emotional competencies, resilience through relationships, and character and identity development through sports. He has successfully led large research teams, consulted with several high-performance organizations to create thriving cultures, and developed tools and resources aimed at promoting resilience through relationships.


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