Saturday, August 28, 2010


An asset can be many things. It can be financial, emotional, spiritual, physical, intellectual, or social. It can be relationships, skills, time, attitude, energy, wisdom, values, or property. An asset can be almost anything.

Certain Developmental Assets have been found to be extremely important in the raising of healthy, caring, and responsible youth.

Every community, family, and individual has assets. The key is to locate, develop, integrate, and enhance, existing assets, being open to the possibilities. This can also require a shift in thinking. Instead of focusing on what is going wrong, one must spend more energy looking for what is going right. Instead of spending most of your time finding and recognizing problems, you must refocus your thinking towards solutions. It is usually easier to strengthen an asset than to eliminate a deficit. Amazingly, deficits often decrease or even disappear as assets are developed. An asset or strength based approach appreciates that the glass is half full, asks why it is half full, and then finds ways to fill it even more.

This is not a suggestion to hide your head in the sand and ignore deficiencies, which sometimes must be addressed. This is a suggestion that WHAT WE FOCUS ON INCREASES. Spend more time on the positive (or Assets), quickly deal with the deficits when it is required, and you will be amazed at how much more quickly the positive (Assets) increases.

(Note on disability: The author of this site is personally familiar with disability and does not want to minimize the effects and limitations of disability; however, it is also important to focus on abilities and how they can be maximized.)


You may also be interested in the concept of and research on Resiliency. Protective Factors and Developmental Assets build Resiliency.

"We find communities with a victim psychology. The difference with asset building is that you look at the assets that a community already has and where they are located. A community then sees that, yes, we do have a lot of things going for us, and through some rearranging we can fill in some gaps. But this is done through a position of strength rather than a position of bleakness. The difference is subtle but absolutely profound in terms of how a community begins to approach taking care of itself and becoming a strong community rather than a victim of circumstance."

Tom English, President

Oregon Council on Crime and Delinquency

"The asset-building vision represents the other side of the coin. Instead of focusing on fixing problems, it centers on nurturing the positive building blocks of development that all young people need. This approach contrasts sharply with traditional deficit-reduction approaches."

All Kids Are Our Kids

What Communities Must Do to Raise Caring and Responsible Children and Adolescents

Peter L. Benson

"Don't find fault, find a remedy."

Henry Ford

There are two paradigms around which there is a great deal of research, programming, and intervention. They are the Deficit Paradigm and the Strength Based Paradigm. Research has clearly shown the Strength Based approach to be more effective and cost efficient. (Focusing on strengths does not mean that you put your head in the sand and ignore deficits. It is simply a matter of focus and emphasis.)

Many individuals in communities, programs, and agencies, are beginning to talk about the Strength Based models of Protective Factors and Developmental Assets. Unfortunately, many of these same individuals still appear to be thinking in the Deficit Paradigm. Shifting from Deficit to Strength Based is more than learning a new language. It is a different culture, thought process, and intervention. From a strength based paradigm there are programs and interventions that can be delivered to the individual; however, the primary emphasis is on groups, communities, and environments. The emphasis is also on building more than on eliminating. For example it is easier to think of something else, than to not think of a cow. Try it! For thirty seconds do not think of a cow or anything to do with a cow. Do not think of any products that come from cows or from cattle.

(Think about it :))

It is impossible to not think about a cow, beef, milk, leather, or anything associated with Cattle. It IS possible to think about something else.

What we focus on, increases.

The two primary strength based models are Protective Factors, which help build Resiliency, and Developmental Assets, which also help build Resiliency. You might say that they are simply different sides of the same coin. Although we primarily hear about Protective Factors and Developmental Assets today, most of the foundation research was done around the concept of Resiliency. Resiliency tries and to a great extent answers the question, why do some people succeed and thrive in spite of multiple barriers and risks. Some people consider Resiliency as a Protective Factor and there is some truth to this; however, both Assets and Protective Factors may be easier to quantify and measure. Resiliency on the other hand is easy to recognize anecdotally. We all know stories about the person who grew up in horrible circumstances and yet became a great success. There are millions of people that we may know nothing about and who also grow up in extremely difficult situations and yet grow up to live good, contributing, and self-reliant lives. This is Resiliency.

We know from research that Resiliency can be built or diminished in both individuals and communities. We also know that no matter what the Assets or Protective Factors or Risk Factors on the other hand that an individual or community may have, there will be some that will thrive and some that will not. For the majority of individuals and communities though, we can have an impact by increasing Protective Factors and Assets, thereby increasing Resiliency. Protective Factors and Developmental Assets might be considered “Independent Variables” while Resiliency might be considered a “Dependent Variable” an “Intervening Variable” or in some cases another “Independent Variable.” For the most part we will consider Resiliency a “Dependent Variable.” Some of the ultimate dependent variables or outcomes are: a healthy lifestyle, productivity, contributing to society, and self-reliance.
The most effective way to build Assets or Protective Factors is in collaboration with the individual, group, or community; however specific interventions can also be introduced which will have a positive impact. Most of the more effective programs that use Protective Factors as an intervention avoid the concept of “Identified Patient” and instead focus on the group or community even when there is an individual of particular concern. Protective Factor programs have a tendency to focus on prescriptive intervention for a particular concern. Developmental Asset related programs have a tendency to have a more global or community impact.

Protective Factors can look at very specific individual issues such as: Initiative, Self Control, Attachment, or strong bonds with family or pro-social institutions such as schools and religious organizations. Protective Factors may also consider much larger issues such as community attitudes about drugs and alcohol.

Developmental Assets may be an easier way to develop a general program to improve Resiliency in individuals in a family, school, or community, while Protective Factor programs may be an easier way to increase Resiliency or general health and safety around specific issues.

Developmental Asset # 25 is “Reading for Pleasure”, and for elementary age children it states: “Children and an adult read together for at least 30 minutes a day. Children also enjoy reading or looking at books or magazines on their own”. We know from research that a very accurate numerical predictor for the need for jail space is reading levels in third grade. We also know that communication, which is a protective factor, as early as age two, is a strong predictor of delinquency behavior later in life. From this we understand that if we build reading and communication skills, children are more likely to follow the rules and laws of society as they grow.

There are many Strength Based Programs or Tools. Each has strengths and some limitations. To some extent, supporting any of them is more important than which one you support. Local ownership
and support for the program is easily as important and sometimes even more important that which program or programs are used. The best program in the world, imposed or where there is the perception that it is imposed, will usually become a failure or have very short term success.

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