This blog previously appeared on CampFire.org on October 19, 2021

Developmental Relationships—connections that help us learn, grow, give back and become our best selves—are fundamental to a thriving life. Research shows that young people who have strong developmental relationships are more engaged at school, have higher social-emotional learning skills and are less likely to participate in high-risk activities. We know that healthy webs of developmental relationships benefit adults, our communities, and all of society, too!

But how do we know a relationship is developmental? And how do we know Camp Fire is cultivating that brand of powerful bonds?

Let’s start with the first question. Camp Fire uses the Search Institute’s well-researched framework for developmental relationships, which describes the five components of a powerfully positive connection as:

 

Secondly, how do we know if the relationships we build between caring adults and young people fit this definition? We ask questions. A lot of them. And often.

This spring and summer, 30 Camp Fire councils (3,036 youth and 279 staff/volunteer surveyed) were asked (among other things) whether we were nurturing the kind of relationships that can improve the lives of kids—and adults. 20 councils also completed 77 program-quality self-assessments. Here’s what we found out:

Relationships are being built… 

  • 80% of 6th-12th grade youth strongly agree or agree that they have a strong relationship with at least one adult at their Camp Fire Program.
  • 83% of 3rd-5th grade youth definitely feel that they get along well with at least one adult at their Camp Fire program.

…that express care…

  • On a scale of 1 to 5, Camp Fire programs for K-6th grade rated above a 4.4 (very high quality) for indicators that showed adults were expressing care.
  • 95% of staff and volunteers feel very or fairly confident building relationships with youth by getting to know their interests, passions, and hobbies.
  • 79% of 6th-12th grade youth strongly agree or agree that if something made them feel uncomfortable or unsafe, they could talk to a Camp Fire adult about it.
  • 84% of 3rd-5th grade youth definitely or sort of believe that at least one adult in their Camp Fire program knows about the things they like.

…challenge growth…

  • 93% of staff and volunteers feel very or fairly confident creating opportunities for all youth to explore and discover their interests and passions.
  • 85% of 6th-12th grade youth strongly agree/agree that at their Camp Fire program, they are encouraged to try new things even if they don’t know what they will be like.

…provide support…

  • On a scale of 1 to 5, Camp Fire programs for 4th-12th grade rated above a 4.4 (very high quality) for indicators that showed adults were providing support.
  • 96% of staff and volunteers feel very or fairly confident in their ability to make every youth feel known and valued.
  • 86% of 6th-12th grade youth strongly agree or agree that they feel included at their Camp Fire program.
  • 93% of 3rd-5th grade youth definitely or sort of feel that they feel included at their Camp Fire program.

…share power…

  • On a scale of 1 to 5, Camp Fire programs for both K-6th grade and 4th-12th grade rated above a 4.4 (very high quality) for indicators that showed adults were sharing power.
  • 96% of staff and volunteers feel very or fairly confident creating opportunities for youth to share, listen, and learn from one another.
  • 84% of 6th-12th grade youth strongly agree or agree that at least one adult at their Camp Fire program thinks their ideas are important.
  • 89% of 6th-12th grade youth strongly agree or agree that at least one adult at their Camp Fire program listens to their opinions and ideas.

…and expand possibilities.

  • 91% of staff and volunteers feel very or fairly confident providing opportunities for youth to learn about new topics and practice new skills.

These surveys give us confidence that Camp Fire is helping cultivate developmental relationships—and we’ll continue to strengthen and support those connections.

Want to know how to nurture developmental relationships in your own life?