Gangs as Pseudo-Families: Giving Youth What They “Need”

From the outside looking in, gangs are comparable to family systems. In fact, as I will explain below, some gangs explicitly refer to themselves as “families” or “brotherhoods” and have mottos that encompass this familial idea. Robert Muller, a psychologist specializing in trauma, explained “that young adults join gangs because they both act as a surrogate family, as well as provide a sense of belonging…” Based on interviews conducted with current and former gang members, Muller stated:

Several gang members said that being part of a gang meant you were never alone in the world, which is similar to how many people describe being part of a close-knit family or group of friends. Gangs provide members a sense of belonging and protection they do not receive from other relationships or experiences in life.

(emphasis added)

Is this sense of belonging and protection what attracts children to gangs in the first place? The interviews Muller relied on revealed that “Bloods, Crips, and MS13 members all say they can identify with ‘Scarface.’ The feeling of being an outsider, dismissed and looked down on, is what gang members say drew them to their crews.” This explains why children in the foster care system may be more prone to joining gangs: they are often times, unfortunately, labelled as outsiders and looked at differently in comparison to children who are not involved in the child welfare system – a key reason they may feel alone and like they do not belong anywhere.

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Families and the National Foster Home Shortage

There are not enough foster homes in the United States, and there haven’t been enough for a long time. When I first started researching the state of foster care, I encountered article after article about the national foster home shortage. The takeaway seemed to be this: there is a really serious trend of more kids needing care and fewer foster homes nationwide. While the data does show this to be true, all the articles seem to be missing a pretty crucial piece of information. If there aren’t enough homes, where are the kids going? I reached a lot of dead ends trying to answer this question. What I eventually found is arguably the most important part of this story: the foster home shortage may have eventually led to an increased focus on placing kids with their relatives.

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