A Qualitative Study of “fa’a’amu” Kinship Care Experiences in Tahiti

Tehani Benjamin, Doris F. Chang, Miriam Steele

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


“Fa'a'amu” is a type of adoption commonly found in French Polynesia involving open, informal adoption arrangements, in which the child maintains ties to the family of origin. Although the function that child circulation plays in Oceanic societies has been widely documented by anthropologists, the implications of fa'a'amu at the individual level have yet to be examined. To address this gap, an exploratory qualitative study was conducted to 1) examine the lived experiences of adults who were fa'a'amu as children, and 2) identify experiences and characteristics associated with positive psychosocial and mental health outcomes in adulthood. The sample consisted of 22 Tahitian adults, who had been fa'a'amu during childhood. Applying a developmental and attachment lens, we explored how participants experienced relationships with birth and adoptive families, and how being fa'a'amu impacted their sense of well-being, attachment, identity, and belonging. Data was collected through The Adult Attachment Interview and the Fa'a'amu Experience Interview, which were coded using thematic analysis. Factors associated with positive outcomes in adulthood included early age at adoption, sensitive fa'a'amu parents, positive or benign relationships with birth parents, and respect between fa'a'amu and birth families. Factors associated with emotional distress included late age at adoption, abandonment and rejection, exploitative fa'a'amu parents, and conflict between birth and fa'a'amu families.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-198
Number of pages26
JournalAdoption Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 3 2019


  • Kinship care
  • Polynesian adoption
  • fa'a'amu
  • grandparent caregivers
  • kinship adoption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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