Our Blog

ACES now Assets

Monday, January 30th, 2023

by Melanie VanderPol-Bailey, MSW, CSW-PIP



Twenty-five years ago, as a very excited new social worker, I had the opportunity to work with a collaborative program in Worthington MN, funded by the corrections program and housed within the elementary and middle schools.  We built a teen peer mentoring program based on tools from the Search institute’s Developmental Assets Survey.  It was amazing to watch the older teens connect and support young youth in community.  It was equally exciting to be a part of a collaborative effort of adults, creatively seeking ways to improve the lives of children. 

Fast forward to 2023, and I am sitting in a workshop on assessing suicide and self-harm with children and adolescents.  The keynote speaker, Jeff Rowe MD shares about the Search Institute and the value the Developmental Assets.  His message to the audience was to become familiar with assets and pour into the development of assets in your area youth.  Dr. Rowe shared that we are losing too many souls in our country as a result of these common experiences people feel-hopelessness, helpless, despondent and alone

I became curious, so I googled www.search-institute.org and learned more about its history and what has continued since the 90’s.  It turns out that the story of Search Institute began in 1958. Search Institutes founder Merton Strommen, a young youth director, was asked to develop a survey for his doctoral dissertation to understand the concerns and needs of young people in a newly emerging Lutheran denomination in 1958.  The resulting survey was administered to 2000 youth and 2000 adults. It led to the establishment of Lutheran Youth Research in 1960 to continue scientific research on youth in religious institutions. The organizations name evolves until it became Search Institute in 1977, reflecting a broadened research agenda.  

In the past 25 years as part of its positive youth development research, the Search Institute has surveyed about 6 million young people in the United States and around the world to understand how young people experience developmental assets. 

The Search Institute surveyed over 121,000 US youth using the Attitudes and Behaviors Survey. They collected data on youth between grades six through 12 from 2012 to 2015.

U.S youth reported having on average 20.6 of the 40 assets. Only 11% report experiencing an optimal level of assets 31–40 and that same number, 11% report experiencing only 0-10 assets.


Most and Least Common Assets: Here are the most and least common assets these young people experience:

Most Common

Least Common

Integrity (75%)

Achievement motivation (75%)

Family support (73%)

Positive view of personal future (73%)

Positive peer influence (72%)

Honesty (71%)

Responsibility (70%)

Positive family communication (33%)

Youth as resources (32%)

Adult role models (32%)

Parent involvement in schooling (32%)

Community values youth (25%)

Reading for pleasure (22%)

Creative activities (20%)


As communities, we should begin to notice some of these least common assets and work together for a collaborative approach to improving scores for all of our youth.  We know that positive and present adults can make a huge impact.  I can only imagine that if we have success in this area, we will also have success in lowering the big four feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, despondence and feeling alone. 

Currently in the Platte-Geddes High School, they have implemented the Hope Squad Program, whose mission is to reduce youth suicide through education training and peer intervention.  There is power is seeing each other and meeting people where they are, as they are, offering hope. 

Our agencies are here to assist you.  River Counseling Services in Platte, Sioux Falls Psychological Services, and Stronghold Counseling Services in Sioux Falls and in Yankton - meet you where you are, offering hope. That is our mission. You may schedule an appointment at the Platte office at 605-337-3444 or meet with one of our Sioux Falls or Yankton based therapists from your computer, smartphone, or in person at any of our clinics. To schedule an appointment, please call 605-334-2696.