All key messages

Section Key Message

Youth Who Thrive

A summary of critical factors and effective programs for 12-25 year olds, commissioned by the YMCA of Greater Toronto in partnership with United Way Toronto.


This resource was created for the YMCA of Greater Toronto and United Way of Toronto by the Students Commission of Canada and the Social Program Evaluation Group at Queen’s University. Thanks to all those partners and contributors who advised and participated in its development.

Purpose and Background

These pages summarize the strongest current research about what youth aged 12-25 need to thrive. Programmers who intentionally combine scientific evidence with specific knowledge of youth in their program are more likely to produce better results.

Setting the Context

Youth Who Thrive updates and complements the evidence base from recent literature and these previous reports: Community Programs to Promote Youth Development, Youth Impact Plan: An Evidence Review, Roots of Violence, Stepping Stones and Stepping Up: A Strategic Framework.

Developmental Frameworks

Three major approaches useful for designing youth programming have strong evidence: 40 Developmental Assets™, the Five Cs, and Self-Determination Theory.


Youth programs can assist youth to thrive by experiencing positive results, or outcomes, in three areas: learning, feeling, and behaving.

Critical Factors

Three critical factors are shared across the approaches with strong evidence: autonomy, relatedness, and competence.

Effective Programs

The research identifies 10 important features of effective youth programs and their settings. Four features support relatedness, four support autonomy and competence, and two support all three critical factors (autonomy, relatedness, and competence).

Effective Practices

The research identifies effective practices associated with the development of each of the critical factors.

Demographic Factors

Autonomy, relatedness and competence are affected by demographic factors.


Autonomy, relatedness and competence can support transitions during early adolescence, mid-adolesence, late adolesence/early adulthood, as well as transitions such as moving to independent living, exiting child welfare, and parenting.

These key messages summarize the strongest evidence from current research about what youth aged 12-25 need to thrive. Understanding the critical factors, key program features, effective practices, and additional influences such as transitions and demographics, will assist when developing and delivering programs with diverse youth in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond.