THANKFULLY, the days of Dickensian orphanages are buried far in the past.
Our horrible images of these Victorian institutions have faded as the reality became more modern and child-centred.
But it is difficult for anyone to deny that the best place for children is not in a care institution, no matter how modern, but in a normal home with a loving family.
This is what fostering provides.
A family, with an extra bedroom to spare, an extra place at the table, extra love to give to a child who may never have known what kindness is.
Children are thrust into the care system for all sorts of reasons, but at its root, it is because they have no parent or guardian who can look after them in the way they need.
Foster families become that caring family, taking children into their own homes and looking out for them for as long as is needed.
It is not an easy or straightforward thing to do.
All foster parents will admit they face difficulties every step of the way, whether it is the struggle of connecting with a traumatised child, or the pain of saying goodbye to them after that bond has been made.
But they will also tell you how worthwhile the process is, for the families, and also for the children.
FIRST it was free lunches. Then free booze, teas, coffees and soirees. Next up came calls to 118 and the speaking clock. And now the amount that Essex County Council has spent sending its members on foreign trips to destinations such as China, India, Belgium, Germany and the US has been revealed.
Since April 2007, at least £58,608.78 has been spent on flights and accommodation – all paid for by taxpayers.
The council says that these trips have helped to build international relations and secure trade.
But as campaign group the TaxPayers' Alliance rightly points out, there are government departments responsible for doing this sort of thing – so why are county councillors getting in on the act as well?
At a time when families are feeling the pinch and possibly cannot afford to travel overseas themselves, our revelations may come as a surprise to taxpayers in Brentwood – remember, 74 per cent of the council tax you pay goes to Essex County Council.
Despite everything that has happened with the MPs' expenses scandal, County Hall still doesn't seem to get it.
One can only assume it's very easy to spend money when it doesn't belong to you.
The Gazette's war on waste will go on until the council wakes up and publishes all of its expenditure in a transparent fashion.
How long that will take is anyone's guess, but cutting costly foreign trips would be a good place to start.