We're in that limbo state where one of our foster children is going home and nobody is quite sure how to play things.

Romeo, who's been with us nearly a year - blimey, time flies - is returning to his birth mother and things are speeding up because Christmas is always an issue, not just because families need to plan, but because social services and fostering agencies are pretty much on hold for a fortnight so they need to nail things down in advance.

So he now knows. And he's chuffed. Chuffed because, much as he's come to like us, the foster family is no contest for the birth family, and quite right too.

If I'm brutally honest it always hurts a tiny bit that they prefer someone who has abused them such that they are removed into care over a family that has gone round the houses to provide them with everything, make them feel welcome, fit in, and benefit from a peace and harmony which actually from time to time they were the main threat to. But I don't show it in any way or let it get between me and the fostering. It's a human piece of me, this slight sadness, but I try to sideline it because fostering is a profession and the human in me has to come second.

The job is to get them ready to go home, and every child who goes home is a job well done. I had one child, a teenager, I was the only voice who said the time had come for her to go home. I'd met her family, they were up to having her back, and I knew her better than anyone at the time (she'd been with us 6 months, I'd seen her grow up). I got my way, she went home, and the last I heard she was happy as a pig in you-know-what.

The tricky thing is our other looked-after children, who aren't going home.

How must this look to them? How must they feel?

We can't act too pleased for Romeo, that might cause hurt to the others, yet we can't pretend that Romeo going home isn't a result for him.

My headache is how to foster them all through this period; Romeo and the ones who are staying.

Look at it from the stayers point of view; they've been in care longer than Romeo. They know their parents are no worse at parenting than Romeo's. How do they know this? Foster children compare backgrounds with each other. In my experience it's a wholly good thing, not that you could stop it happening. They're curious about each other, and find comfort in talking about what's happened to them with someone who has experienced similar things.

Romeo is going home, they aren't. I had to take as much care explaining this to them as I took explaining things to Romeo. His social worker broke him the news, a proper way of doing it as a) they're trained up to the hilt b) they are the ones ultimately responsible for a child in care c) they like giving children good news - most of their job entails being bearer of sad tidings.

The question that comes up most often in fostering, or at least causes most consternation is;

"When am I going home?"

You sometimes get it the same afternoon they arrive at your home. The social worker sits them down in your house and explains a bunch of stuff and asks if they have any questions, and up comes;

"When am I going home?"

From time to time during general chats, say at the table eating tea, you find yourself talking about their circumstances - their Contact arrangements, their school problems, whatever - and you find yourself asking; "Is there anything else you want to know?"

"When am I going home?"

You want to know how I answer this question? So do I. I struggle, but I try.

"Everyone is working on getting you home as soon as it's right for you"

"There are discussions happening all the time, we're hopeful but don't have a date yet".

"I haven't heard anything new since we last asked, I'll speak to your social worker tomorrow."

You have to tell the truth, stick to facts, but always as kindly as you can.

One thing we can do, and I've decided to do it, is say we don't want to be up for another placement for a bit. Don't want the children who remain to think the arrival of a new child (whether birth or a foster child) is evidence they aren't enough.

When Romeo goes, I'll almost certainly never see him or hear anything about him again.


But until my last day on earth I'll wonder about him, hope he's okay, hope his time with us helped.

But his bed will probably be filled again soon, and the best job in the world goes onwards and upwards.