Can you spot a child in care, or a mother whose children have been taken away? Is it something about their gait, or the look in their eyes, or the clothes they wear? Would you recognise a foster carer with children who are not her own? In the park do you stand guard in case a looked-after child befriends your toddler? Would you even know what signs to look for?
Society thinks of children in care as children who are, well, different. Through no fault of their own, of course. But they are not quite like us, or ours. They are likely to be unpredictable, unreliable, untrustworthy, underachieving, and many other adjectives beginning with un-. They come from a reality far removed from our own, a world of hostility and deprivation, and despite everyone's best intentions, theirs will be a life of struggle and hardship.
It is a Tracy Beaker-ish narrative that remains largely unchallenged because it allows people to feel comfortable about themselves and about the modest degree of responsibility they should feel for these children and young people. Their troubles are somebody else's problem.
So I'm sorry if what I am about to say upsets you, or challenges your complacency. But the reality is that many of the 70,000 children currently in care in the UK are just like your sons and daughters, and just like mine. They laugh, they cry; they have dreams and fears; they feel sorrow and pain. They sulk. They like The Big Bang Theory.
Our experience as foster carers has taught us that lives are precarious and can be thrown into chaos in an instant, through ill health, an accident, a failed relationship, redundancy. A poor decision, the throw of a dice and someone's fate is cast. The stress of modern daily life, managed and contained during the good times, suddenly becomes unbearable. A home is lost, friends make themselves scarce, families become fractured amid blame and recrimination.
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.
The reasons why children and young people are taken into care are diverse and complex: they may be rooted deep in family history, or they may be the consequence of an unforeseen and catastrophic event. These are challenges that do not discriminate between rich and poor, by race or faith. Abuse is most likely to take place at home and to be perpetrated by someone known to the child. Domestic violence knows no postcode.
These are undeniable facts, and as foster carers we are witnesses to the truth that any child can become a victim of circumstances beyond his or her control. Just as it can be impossible to identify a person suffering from mental illness, so it is impossible to tell a child in care from one who is not. Yet the stigma persists, and the discourse around the care of vulnerable children is framed by 'us' and 'them'. It skews the big decisions and perpetuates inequality.
It might have been you. It may yet be.