The fostering covenant is currently being broken, to coin a phrase David Cameron once used to describe our neglect of the military. Austerity measures are having a devastating effect on practical and financial support for foster carers, and on children's access to their social workers and other services, including mental health services.
At the school gates parents mellow and become curious about this child's new lease of life. So often, they admit they were aware of problems, but felt it was not their place to become involved. Sometimes, there are genuine concerns for their own safety. But mostly, I am sad to say, it is down to indifference.
Yes, looked-after children are more likely to have lived in poverty, and they are more likely to have parents whose own lives were blighted by neglect and abuse. But we have also provided a home to children and young people who attended private schools, who wore preppy clothes and carried the latest smart phone in their back pocket. We have cared for children who told stories of foreign holidays and family days out just like our own.
It is an unlikely friendship. He's pushing 90, blind and not as quick on his feet as he used to be. She's not yet four, and until recently rarely said a word. Now she has found her voice and she has plenty to say for herself. Within moments she is holding the elderly gent's hand and he is laughing out loud. If he's not careful she'll soon be helping herself to the cake from his plate.
The season to be merry is in full swing, and all around us people appear to be having a great time. As a family we love Christmas and everything it stands for. We celebrate with close relatives and friends, reflect on the year that is drawing to a close and to make plans for the year ahead. But as foster carers? Well, it is complicated, isn't it?
As she runs off to play, I contemplate the wondrous capacity of the human spirit to overcome adversity. Just a few weeks ago this same child did not know me, and had never set foot in our home. All this is new and alien. She has been removed from everything she has ever known to become a looked-after child in foster care, with no sense of how long this might last.
We are fostering again. Our home is filled with the sounds of children playing. Umpteen pairs of little shoes and wellies are piled around the front door, coats and jumpers are draped over stairs and chairs. There are toys in every room. Our foster children come in twos and threes, and sometimes it feels like being hit by a tornado.
I count my blessings. This week I had the privilege of attending the Mind Media Awards and Fostering Excellence Awards in London on successive evenings. Both events are born out of human frailty but celebrate the extraordinary kindness and resilience of ordinary people in the face of often appalling circumstances.
We take so much for granted. At our grandson's first birthday party we meet some of our daughter's friends. Now parents themselves, they gather with their babies and toddlers, sharing stories about broken nights and nappies, first steps and playgroups. Our home fills with the laughter of children and the accompanying chat of watchful parents. As hosts, our role is to make sure there is plenty of food and drink, so we spend a frantic, if joyous, couple of hours on the go.