Adoption​​ - Whāngai

— Skylight Trust

Adopting a child is challenging, whether you are bringing a child in to your existing family or adopting a step child. Whāngai is a customary Māori practice where a child is raised by someone other than their birth parents.

Adoption is when someone from one family is chosen to be part of a new whānau .

People adopt children for many reasons:

  • maybe they want to have a whānau, but cannot have children of their own
  • maybe they want to have legal responsibility for a child in their family who is not their birth child (such as when a child is adopted by a step-parent)
  • maybe they want to give a place in their whānau to someone who needs a whānau.

Adopting or to whāngai a child with a history of trauma is particularly challenging. While we do not believe that we have answers to every problem that a family can face, we do believe that following these principles, will improve the lives of many families embarking on this journey.

  • make the child's sense of safety your priority
  • understand the child's view - empathise and sympathise with them
  • be prepared to alter your approach to suit the child - "one size fits all" approaches do not work
  • understand discipline and set boundaries
  • adjust your expectations of yourself and your child
  • never give up on your child.


Attachment is the base upon which emotional health, social relationships, and your world view is built. The ability to trust, and form reciprocal relationships, will affect the emotional health, security, and safety of your child, as well as your child’s development and future inter-personal relationships.

Normal attachment develops during the child's first two years of life. From birth the child begins to learn who will care for them and this develops a sense of trust. The child soon learns that when they cry, they will be comforted, if they are hungry they will be fed and that the main care giver will always respond in a loving and nurturing way. However, if there are problems with the mother-child relationship during this time, or breaks in the consistent caregiver-child relationship, this can prevent attachment from developing normally. There are a wide range of attachment problems that can result in varying degrees of emotional disturbance in the child. One thing is certain; if an infant's needs are not met consistently, in a loving, nurturing way, attachment will not occur normally.

Feelings About Being Adopted

It is normal for adopted and whāngai children to have mixed feelings about their adoption at times, and to want to know the answers to at least some of these questions:

  • who were my birth parents?
  • what are they like?
  • who do I look like?
  • why was I adopted?

If you have always known that you were adopted or whāngai , then these feelings may not be very strong, but if you have just found out, then you may feel very confused and even angry, which is only natural. You may also want to meet others that have been adopted, to share similar experiences. Remember you were chosen by your parents for adoption.

Searching for Birth Parents

Children are naturally curious about where they have come from and this is true for all children, no matter what their background. This desire to know, is a natural reflection of a child wanting to know more about themselves. In older children, it can be a big piece of their journey to creating their own self-identity.

It is important to give children an understanding of their history, culture, whakapapa and where appropriate connection to wider whanau to help form their identity and sense of belonging

It is important to remember, that the child is not trying to replace their adoptive/whāngai family. Experts encourage parents to support their child's interest in learning about their origins, rather than allowing it to become a point of anxiety for either or both.

Resources Available at Skylight

Skylight is here to help you through difficult times. We can assist you in a variety of ways with information appropriate for your situation. You are welcome to visit us and receive free information and a support pack from our resource centre and borrow books from the specialist library. We also facilitate Professional Development training and offer Counselling support services for children, young people, family/whānau and individuals who are experiencing tough times.

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