Foster Youth Allegiance to The Family That Scarred Them. Why?

This is a question that I get a lot.  The foster parents and the social workers that I’ve worked with over the years all want to know WHY is it that the youth they work with still want a relationship with their abusive mother/father; why they run away from their foster care placement to go back to the abusive home they were taken from.

We are inherently inclined as humans to depend on our family unit for survival.  This is where we are nurtured and protected from the dangers of the world. This is where we are taught the ins and outs of this world and how we are to maneuver the challenges that come with living.   In a country that appears to have become so individualistic (although we see the benefits of those who have a functioning and productive families), people forget just how important, no, VITAL the family unit is.  It is something that those with what they may consider functioning families take for granted to a certain extent because its just something they have that they don’t have to think about.

It’s only when you don’t have a family unit or when it is so damaged that it doesn’t function in a way that provides the benefits I talked about earlier – that you come to understand just how important family is. When I was in foster care, I desperately wanted a connection with my family.  I struggled to maintain relationships with those biological family members that meant so much to me.  For some reason, I felt there was a huge hole in who I was because I didn’t have a connection to my father, I couldn’t have a relationship with my mother, I didn’t have a good relationship with my sister and my brother was living in Oregon and I hadn’t seen him in years.  Sure I had cousins whom I’m still very close with to this day, but the absence of my NUCLEAR family was the most crippling.

Before going into foster care, I lived with my uncle for 8 years. I loved (and still do) my uncle because he was the only father figure I had known.  I was told I used to call him UncleDaddy.  Although I endured different abuses by his hand, I still wanted the best for him.  When I was taken away from him, my goal was to get myself together (whatever that meant) so that I could help him.  Even at a young age,  I could see that he was at war with something internally that affected his relationships with his family, with his friends, with people in general.  When I was 19 years old he and I reunited, so to speak, after 5 years.  I thought this was my opportunity to help him; I thought maybe we could start over. A month later I was told he was murdered.  I was DEVASTATED to say the least.  When I share what I experienced when I lived with him, people are astonished with WHY I still look at him in such a high regard. Sometimes people even say “well he got what he deserved” – which REALLY grinds my gears because for all intensive purposes, he was and always will be the only father I ever knew.

My answer to why foster youth have an allegiance to family that scarred them is…..waaiiit for it………humans are WIRED to biological family.  All people have an unspoken and sometimes subconscious allegiance to family, even family that may have scarred them.  Like, when a child that is adopted as an infant comes of age and begins to act out without knowing why and when they’re told (if they’re told) that they are adopted the void that they felt all their lives is  suddenly explained! And no matter how good their adoptive parents had been to them, they STILL have a NEED to KNOW where they came from and to whom they originally belonged.  Foster Youth are HUMAN, that is why they still have an allegiance to the family that may have scarred them.  The sooner our society begins to treat youth in and from foster care as humans that deserve love, family and all the good things that the next human deserves, we can begin to break down some of the debilitating stereotypes that have created a system where its almost impossible for them to flourish.

Your thoughts?


About formerfostertalk

Founder and Executive Director of the Maryland Foster Youth Resource Center and Founder and Senior Consultant with Fostering Change Network LLC. I am also a former foster youth with a passion to give back to youth still in and those who have transitioned from the foster care system.
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11 Responses to Foster Youth Allegiance to The Family That Scarred Them. Why?

  1. Crystal O'Grady says:

    Yes, I agree. I also think that foster youth have a unique perspective and vantage point, or how/why we are wired to biological family in addition to the need for love and family. In a sense, we want to stay connected in order to see how our biological family navigates through the world and what happens to them, so that we know how to manage ourselves better, i.e. health problems that may arise, etc. We can only know of those things that may be in our genes if we stay connected. It’s a survival mechanism.

    Thanks for writing this piece.

  2. I would add that because it is so common for foster youth and alumni to seek out their birth families, that the best thing that their foster parents, case workers, attorneys, mentors, etc. can do for them is to be honest with them about their birth family. When young people are separated from their birth families for long periods of time, they frequently build up an idealized and unrealistic image of what their biological family is like. It can be heartbreaking and even unsafe for a young person to re-enter a family where substance abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse and emotional abuse have not been properly addressed, especially when that young adult has mentally glossed over this part of their family history or minimized the problem. It is also often beneficial for young people in care to have interactions with the safe and healthy members of their birth family whenever possible, so that they know that there are positive people in their family of origin, whom they can relate to and see themselves in, and who they can turn to if other members of their birth family do things which upset or could potentially harm the young person. This connection to positive members of birth family promotes positive perceptions of self-worth in young people.

    • I completely agree. That is why it is also important that more resources are dedicated to strengthening the biological family because ultimately the youth will return home, whether through reunification or when they age-out of foster care without a place to go. Too often youth are taken from their biological families and families never get the assistance they need to resolve the issues that caused the child’s removal.

  3. lktrevino says:

    While I respect all commentors here and love the post, the thing that seems to be glossed over is the simple fact that it is a biological imperative. We are, as stated above, HARDWIRED to need our family. It is a genetic mechanism that all living creatures have. Being a thinking being has nothing to do with this need. We can’t live without our families and be whole.

    As a former foster and a birth mother, I can tell you that from both sides of the fence it is horrible to be separated….. I spent years in care – many years — without any family contact. I died a little bit each year that passed. I have spent 30 years without my child….. again, each year is a nightmare.

    The facts are simple – children are geared to be with their biological families, to maintain those connections throughout life. We grow up, marry or mate, have our own children that expands that original family – families – and those children are made whole by being connected with as many family connections as possible.

    Abuse and neglect do not change that need. Neither does adoption.

    • I agree with you wholeheartedly! That is why I stated that as humans we are WIRED to need/want our biological family. Of course there are situations as adults where we may have to distance ourselves from biological family members (from physical safety to emotional well-being), but there is always a part of us that wants to make it work or wishes things could be different. The absence of biological family has a strong influence on how we perceive the world and everything and everyone in it.

      • lktrevino says:

        Having been one of the kids, I know too well. I aged out to the street – 30+ years ago. I have trust issues and often misread people’s intentions because I lacked that safety net of family.

      • I understand the trust issues. It’s almost imperative to build a wall of defense around yourself living in foster care. There are so many people that foster youth come into contact with that say they mean well, but do not or that say they will stay and do not – it makes it very difficult to trust. It takes a lot of work to open up. I still work on that to this day. I have learned to recognize when people mean well, but even those people who mean well can cause great damage. Sheeshh!

    • And I also want to say how powerful your last statement was “Abuse and Neglect do not change that need. Neither does adoption.” I couldn’t have said it better 🙂

  4. jmosaic says:

    Sometimes when a child is not used to being loved/nurtured they will hold on to anything……just to say they have something….. Does that make sense?

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