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This is a scene from the movie Southpaw:

Judge: The child has no other family, is that right?

Attorney: Uh, no, Your Honor. Uh, both my client and his wife came up through the system.

Judge: I see. So that's why these circumstances are a little bit more painful for you.

In a child custody case, the attorney replies to a judge's question about the child's family members by saying both parents "came up through the system". What does it mean? Both parents went through foster homes? Why "came up through"?

4

There are several phrases in English that talk about children's becoming adults in terms of going from lower to higher. Parents 'raise' children. Children are 'brought up' in a certain place or time. Children 'grow up' into adults. The verb 'to come up' is another phrase in this category. It means to grow up. Because it uses the word 'come' it expresses the perspective of someone who's already grown up talking about a child moving toward being grown up.

'The system' in this case means the foster care system. Both parents grew up in the foster care system. The writer could have said that they 'came up in the system, but didn't. The use of the word 'through' when talking about the system makes the system sound like a process with a beginning and an end. A person goes 'through' it rather than staying 'in' it. Many foster children go from one foster home to another as they're growing up. As you pointed out, they might go 'through' several homes. So the choice of the word 'through' emphasizes the temporary nature of the system and the experience of being raised in it.

  • This makes sense. +1. However, I can't seem to find this sense of "come up" in dictionaries or Google. It seems Google hits for "the child came up" are all about something else. – Eddie Kal May 23 at 13:09
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    I was going to say that this usage is somewhat non-standard, but I didn't for fear of being culturally biased. I think you'd hear it more in the southern parts of the U.S. and more in lower socio-economic classes, and not as much as it was used several generations ago. All of these would explain why it's not in the dictionary. – dwilli May 23 at 15:19

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