We are a rumbustious gang as we enter the village hall for the autumn fair. There's me and our two adult daughters, a grandson and three foster children, a mix of ages, culture and colour. Yet we are welcomed warmly by neighbours and friends as a family, for nobody doubts that is what we are.
A notable absentee is Mrs B, who is on a rare weekend away with her mother and sisters. One year into a short-term foster placement, our own lives are moving on, and we are making a determined effort to reconnect with family and friends who, inevitably, are neglected when our energy is focused on the children in our care.
Thank goodness, then, for the help and support we receive from our daughters, who have been there from the day we began fostering all those years ago. Here they are today, sweeping up our children and theirs without skipping a beat. Just as we have been there for our foster children since they came into care, so have they. Calm, gentle, patient, good humoured, they are unperturbed by the disruptive and unpredictable nature of foster care.
They find room in their home and in their hearts, when the children arrive; and felt a deep sense of loss, just as we do, when the children move on.
It is not always easy for them. Over the years they have shared their possessions, their space, their parents, with random children. They need our love and attention, just like any other sons and daughters, but have had to wait their turn, or have felt that we were too distracted to listen to their own problems. They are fiercely protective of their mum and dad, and feel hurt when children and young people sharing their home turn against us.
Yet here they are, on an autumn weekend in our Sussex village, hand in hand with children whose lives have been torn asunder. Today these children fill the village hall with their laughter. They decorate cookies and spend their pocket money on the lucky dip. They are surrounded by other children from the village and soon they break free to run out into the sunshine to the adjoining playground. As they have grown in confidence they have found their voices, and it is a joy to watch and to hear.
When they seek reassurance or praise they are just as likely to turn to our daughters as they are to me. Whether they think of them as big sisters or indulgent aunts, it is difficult to tell. It doesn't matter, for what counts is that our daughters are part of that growing band of grown-ups who they can trust and count on.
They observe how our daughters hold down responsible jobs, drive their own cars and are treated with respect by partners and friends. It is a way of life that we take for granted yet is denied to so many girls and young women. Our foster children are curious about our daughters and ask questions that help us to understand the lessons they are learning from this experience.
October is Sons and Daughters Month, the Fostering Network's annual campaign to celebrate the exceptional contribution that children of foster carers make to foster care. I welcome this event because our sons and daughters rarely get the credit they deserve. And we don't tell them often enough about the difference they make.
Foster care really is a family commitment, and would not be possible without the selflessness, determination and courage of so many children and young people. They give so much, and often learn from a tender age how hard life can be.
In our daughters, sometimes, I catch glimpses of the person I have become. And in the children in our care I recognise, however fleetingly, our daughters' gentle, generous ways. And when that happens I know I am blessed.