My wife and I have an adopted son who is the light of our lives. But he first came to live with us in a foster placement when he was a baby.
We came to look after him through a scheme called Concurrent Planning, run by a specialist team in the London independent adoption agency and children's charity, Coram.
Normally, you either foster or adopt a child, whereas this approach combines both, and may result in a number of different outcomes. You may be able to adopt the child, but if a family court decides that their parents have made enough positive changes to safely look after them, they may return to them.
Concurrent planning is only considered for babies under the age of two whose birth parents are facing very significant personal difficulties, making it unsafe for them to be at home. In a study of Coram's Concurrent Planning project, only 5% of cases have resulted in a court deciding that it was safe for children to return to their birth families.
We had to approach this process appreciating that if it was possible, it would be the first choice for any baby. We would know we had been a vital safety net for the child, that we had minimised upheaval in the child's life and provided stability and love.
I suppose that's what attracted us to concurrent planning from day one - the centrality of the child's needs in the whole process. We wanted the opportunity to care for a baby as young as possible and to be the ones there through all the early stages of development.
The first step was a simple phone call to Coram. We then met with a member of their team and, after exploring the various pathways available, decided we wanted to become concurrent carers.
We began a training course that covered mainstream adoption, fostering and concurrent care. At the end of this training we were assessed, and a panel of experts in the field awarded us concurrent carer status.
The next step was a phone call telling us the details of a 1 month old baby who had been referred for concurrent care by a local authority. After great discussion and a visit from the baby's social workers, we were soon able to meet him.
There were 6 or so people in that meeting room but as soon as they brought him in, he was all we could focus on. He was so chubby and cute with the most amazing smile, we just couldn't wait to hold him.
The following day we spent pretty much all of the day with him and on the third day we brought him home, which was just the most amazing feeling. We'd already fallen in love with him and just felt so proud that we had been chosen to be the ones to give him a good start in life.
Our job for the next 6-9 months was to foster him, and bring him to contact with the birth parents. In our case his birth parents withdrew from the process at this stage, so we never attended contact sessions, but this is not typical. Typically there are between one and three contact sessions per week.
We were always prepared ourselves for the eventuality that his birth parents might overcome the circumstances that led to him being removed, but sadly they couldn't, and the courts granted a placement order, which meant he would be need to be adopted.
As his foster carers for the last 8 months, we were in the ideal position to then become his permanent adoptive family. For us, it was wonderful.
Again, Coram was there, in areas that we hadn't even anticipated, for example managing the introduction of our child to extended family as we took on the role of foster carers, the option of monthly play-dates, being able to call the team at any time, or attend supplementary training courses at key milestones.
As every parent knows, however amazing you think family life is going to be, that preconception is dwarfed by the wonder of the real thing.
Yes- the life our child has is special compared to the life he may have had, but the truth is he gives us so much more in return. Concurrent care is highly demanding emotionally and in other ways, but the end result for us has been nothing short of transformational. Our son is beautiful, active, intelligent, hilarious and loving, and we couldn't be happier.