Katherine De Vito, DSW, LCSW

Rutgers University Doctor of Social Work Program

390 George Street, 6th Floor

New Brunswick, NJ 08901

Telephone: (848) 932-8481

Fax: (732) 932-6720

Gangs as  

Replacement Family

Source: Kunal Mehta

Family

Systems

Gangs function as family systems. Similarities include feeling protected, receiving affection, and having a sense of belonging and loyalty (Ruble & Turner, 2000). 

Criminal

Activity

A weak bond with child and caregiver causes lack of trust in the world, increasing chance of criminal activity (Higgins et al, 2010). 

Lack of  Attachment

Lack of strong family attachment can influence interest in crime (McNulty & Bellair, 2003). This missing attachment  can open the door to  gangs (De Vito, In Press). 

Surrogate Family

Gangs can become a surrogate family for youth, filling the void left behind by the family of origin (Ruble & Turner, 2000). 

No Positive Role Model

If there is no other positive role model to step in to fill a family void, there is a greater risk that an adolescent will join a gang if it is available (Higgins et al, 2010). 

Role Model Steps In

Another positive role model can step in and be an influence filling the void left by the primary caregiver (Ains-worth, 1989).

Source: NPR

Seeking a Secure base: gangs as attachment figures

De Vito, K. (2019). Seeking a secure base: Gangs as attachment figures. Qualitative Social Work. Advanced online publication. doi:10.1177/1473325019852659

Attachment theory has the utility to add to the existing knowledge base about gang membership. Gangs can take the place of family for some at-risk youth. Those who do not have a secure attachment and secure base with a primary caregiver will look to fill that void elsewhere (Ainsworth, 1989; Bowlby, 1988). Adolescents form attachments to peers  (Ainsworth, 1989). One form of peer group is a gang. Gangs can become that replacement or surrogate family. This qualitative research project explored: How did the childhood experiences of former gang members shape their decisions to join a gang? What factors contribute to former gang members’ decisions to disengage from gang membership?