02/05/2017 12:54 BST | Updated 02/05/2017 12:54 BST

Saying Goodbye To A Foster Child Is The Toughest Challenge

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We have said goodbye to a cherished foster daughter, and we feel her absence deeply.

When a foster child arrives, we usually do not know how long the placement will last. It may be for days, weeks or months. This placement has lasted for almost one year and a half. That's two birthdays, two Christmases and two Easters.

During this time she has grown in confidence and found her voice. We have been at her side as she has blossomed, discovering a new world in which she is respected and valued. More than any child we have known, she has understood the opportunities afforded by being placed in care, and showed a steely determination never to return to her former life. In particular, she has seen what an independent young woman can achieve, and has new ambitions and dreams.

Now she has left us to live with her forever family, to be nurtured and supported through to adulthood. Long-term foster carers are exceptional people, and our special girl has a new home with a wonderful family. It is no less than she deserves.

This is, as near as dammit, a placement designed to her specifications, an exemplar of how to involve looked-after children and young people in decisions about their own future. She took time to reflect on what kind of foster family she wanted, and we accepted, with regret, that it could not be us. Yet we hope that she has moved on knowing that she was loved and cherished, and will always have a place in our lives.

This is our foster daughter's third placement since coming into care, and I brace myself for the usual criticism of a system that fails children through a lack of stability. We have become another damning statistic. In this case, as in so many others, nothing could be further from the truth. Her first foster home was an emergency placement for a few days until our own home became available. During her time with us complex relationships have been unpicked and she has grown as a person. She begins her long-term placement after travelling a difficult journey while in our care, without which this outcome might not have been possible.

Over the past few weeks a big challenge for us as foster carers has been to prepare our two remaining foster children for her departure. That process continues now she has gone. It has been deeply unsettling for them. More than once our youngest has asked when our eldest will be coming back from her sleepover. But a new dynamic is emerging, between the children as well as with us. After the uncertainty of these past few weeks, our home feels calmer. The little'uns have certainly benefited from the extra time we can spend with them, although we are under no illusion that the road ahead will not be easy.

Saying goodbye to a foster son or daughter gets no easier with experience. If you are fully committed to a child or young person, their departure unavoidably leaves a void. I am not ashamed to say that we struggled as we wrote the final entries in her memory book, and added the last photographs to her album, reminding us of the wonderful times spent together. But being a foster carer is about arrivals and departures. Seeing a foster child stride forward with confidence and purpose can only mean that you have done your job well. We take comfort from the fact that our foster daughter is ready to face the next challenge.

Welcome to Fostering, edited by Andy Elvin and Martin Barrow, is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers on May 8.