While adoption and fostering, the practice of turning strangers into kin, 1 are experienced in a deeply personal manner, changes in the way intimate non-kin relationships have been fashioned and understood in the modern period are also refl ective of much broader change and more formal political, economic, social and cultural customs. Contemporary scholars analytically refer to ‘the political symbolism of children’ and childhood. 2 The regulation of the passing on of identity, knowledge and material goods from one generation to another is historically something in which communities have been deeply invested, and have facilitated through formal and informal means and from the least to the most elite, throughout human history. 3 A variety of systems have existed historically that enabled the co-residential connecting of children with non-kin adults through fostering, apprenticeship and indenturing, boarding out and political exchange. All enable ‘child circulation’, which ‘strengthen[s] social ties, build[s] life-long affective networks for the child[ren] and redistributes the pleasures and constraints of parenting and being a child’. 4 If non-kin family constructs have historically and culturally always existed, the challenge is to understand changing attitudes towards them in an industrializing and globally connected Western world. Examining ‘the “ideal” family that was being created, recreated, protected, or challenged in various adoption scenarios’, and especially in colonial settings, illuminates some of the ‘gendered and racialized narratives of nation and identity that create[d] social meaning now and in the past’. 5 We can learn much about a culture by studying the legal and social practices of adoption and fostering.