Using Strengths — and Challenges — to Measure Youth Well-Being

Posted March 4, 2024
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog searchinstituteblog 2024

A new report pub­lished by Search Insti­tute, with sup­port from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, pro­vides a guide to tools that mea­sure exist­ing strengths in a young person’s life. A Land­scape Scan of Mea­sures for Youth Strengths Across Indi­vid­ual, Fam­i­ly, School and Com­mu­ni­ty Set­tings dis­cuss­es how assess­ing strengths as well as risks or chal­lenges can help prac­ti­tion­ers bet­ter sup­port the needs of the youth they serve. The report details mea­sures, their con­texts (com­mu­ni­ty, fam­i­ly, etc.) and how they might be used in improve­ment or eval­u­a­tion efforts.

A Land­scape Scan is open source and avail­able for free to com­mu­ni­ty-based prac­ti­tion­ers and researchers who are look­ing for strengths-based data to guide their work with youth.

Down­load the report

What Is Strength-Based Measurement?

A Land­scape Scan includes back­ground on the move­ment toward adopt­ing more strength-based approach­es in the field of psychology.

Tra­di­tion­al­ly, researchers have focused on the neg­a­tive forces youth face. This is a holdover from health research, built around mit­i­gat­ing risk fac­tors and pre­vent­ing harm. How­ev­er, researchers can’t get a com­plete pic­ture of a young person’s well-being by ask­ing only about sub­stance use, miss­ing school, drop­ping out of school, encoun­ters with police or vio­lence in their com­mu­ni­ties. Study­ing young people’s strengths and how they’re thriv­ing paints a more accu­rate pic­ture of their experiences.

We want to com­pli­cate — in a good way — the data used to make deci­sions and deliv­er pro­gram­ming by adding those strength mea­sure­ments along with tra­di­tion­al approach­es of study­ing the poten­tial­ly neg­a­tive forces in their lives,” says Amir François, a senior research asso­ciate at Casey. François worked with Search Insti­tute researchers to devel­op the report.

Mea­sur­ing Young People’s Strengths

The authors of A Land­scape Scan devel­oped a list of 33 strength mea­sures grouped into sev­en categories:

  • Sup­port­ive con­texts: oppor­tu­ni­ties and resources that exist in schools, com­mu­ni­ties and homes that help young peo­ple learn, grow and thrive.
  • Sup­port­ive rela­tion­ships: pos­i­tive rela­tion­ships with teach­ers, peers, men­tors and fam­i­ly members.
  • Atti­tudes, beliefs and mind­sets: inter­nal per­spec­tives and con­cepts around val­ues and beliefs and identity.
  • Skills: social, emo­tion­al and cognitive.
  • Per­for­mance: emo­tion reg­u­la­tion, self-man­age­ment, social aware­ness, cul­tur­al and lin­guis­tic com­pe­tence and crit­i­cal-think­ing skills.
  • Engage­ment and involve­ment: par­tic­i­pa­tion in pos­i­tive civic, fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty activities.
  • Learn­ing strate­gies: class­room learn­ing strate­gies, school learn­ing strate­gies, teacher strate­gies and teach­ing and infor­ma­tion sharing.

[A Land­scape Scan] com­piles a lot of resources for mea­sur­ing strengths — the rela­tion­ships, skills and sup­ports that young peo­ple are build­ing in all the places that they live, work and play,” says Kather­ine Ross, the Search Insti­tute senior research sci­en­tist who led the project. Iden­ti­fy­ing these strengths is an impor­tant first step in know­ing what to lever­age and where more resources or sup­ports are need­ed for the young peo­ple you are work­ing with.”

Some strengths are inter­nal, such as:

  • iden­ti­fy­ing with deep per­son­al interests;
  • hav­ing a strong per­son­al and civic iden­ti­ty; and
  • express­ing a sense of self-worth and purpose.

Oth­er strengths are exter­nal, such as:

  • active­ly par­tic­i­pat­ing in their schools and com­mu­ni­ties; and
  • hav­ing sup­port­ive rela­tion­ships with peers, men­tors and/​or fam­i­ly members.

Know­ing these strengths can help youth-serv­ing orga­ni­za­tions make bet­ter deci­sions and cre­ate bet­ter pro­grams to help youth,” François says. It helps us deter­mine, for exam­ple, What is thriv­ing? What does it mean to thrive for a par­tic­u­lar young per­son or group of young people?’ ”

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