We have witnessed the wonder of adoption first hand. As foster carers we were present when the baby we had cared for since birth met her new parents for the first time, and we have been blessed to be part of their lives ever since.
So we know that adoption transforms lives, giving children another chance to be part of a loving family, to be nurtured and protected. When it is agreed that adoption is the best option for a looked-after child it should be expedited as quickly as possible. Children's services must identify the best match without delay and provide all the support a new family needs to thrive.
But as foster carers we also know that the vast majority of children taken into care will not be adopted. The reasons are not so difficult to understand. Some will return to their home, once the original crisis has been adressed; others may live with their extended families, such as a grandparent or older sibling. But even those who cannot return to birth families are not necessarily open to adoption. Many don't want to be adopted: they already have a parent and although they may come to understand that they cannot live together that does not mean that they are willing to become somebody else's son or daughter. Long-term foster care with a family ready to make a commitment until the child or young person comes of age, and probably beyond, is the most likely outcome. It is the experience of most looked-after children, and the experience of foster carers who look after the vast majority of children who come into care. If most looked-after children are not adopted it is not through systemic failure but perhaps because adoption is the wrong answer to the wrong question.
Yet the Government persists in establishing a hierarchy of care, in which adoption is at the top, the gold standard, the ideal. Foster care and other forms of permanency arrangements for looked-after children and young people come some way below.
The latest iteration of this was sneaked out on Easter Sunday by the Department for Education. It was described by Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, as a new strategy to support all vulnerable children. But when something is called "A new blueprint for adoption" the intent is clear. To reinforce the point the document is laced with the familiar language about adoption providing a certain route to a "loving family " for children stranded in the care system. And there's an extra £14 million to fund "innovative schemes that result in more children ending up in loving homes."
There is nothing inherently wrong with the Government's commitment to make adoption easier, particularly if the initiative is targeted at those who are most difficult to place, including teenagers with disabilities or special needs. But the disappointment is the now familiar disregard for other forms of permanency, accompanied by language that implies that foster care is little more than a holding pen for difficult children.
This comes at a time when there is an acute shortage of foster carers and when some local authorities are cutting the allowances available to carers. The number of care orders is rising and there are fewer social workers available to deal with ever more complex caseloads. Against this background it seems perverse to prioritise adoption at this time.
Saying goodbye to that baby was the most difficult challenge we have faced as foster carers. It gave us the courage and determination we needed to rise to the challenge of subsequent placements. And it made us understand that adoption and foster care work best when they work together, in the child's best interests. It really is that simple.