'I enjoy seeing children smile for the first time'

Five years ago, when Janie Ashton was in her thirties, she and her husband started offering short-term and respite care for babies and younger children.

"We were unable to have our own children, but we still felt we had a lot to offer in terms of parenting. Also, I'd been teaching for 20 years and wanted a change.

Being in my thirties, I assumed I'd be at the top of the fostering age range, so I was quite surprised to see so many older people on the training course. I think it's so important to have younger foster carers as well as older ones. Younger foster carers, for example, may be more aware of things such as drug issues and get less freaked out by them than the older generation.

That said, we take in younger children. But again, my being younger can help here because you have more energy – and you need energy for all those sleepless nights. With two little boys we had recently, we were outside every day, rain or shine.

We decided on younger children largely because we have a house in Devon, and after being a teacher for so many years and only able to visit during school holidays, we wanted to be able to go [to the house] any time. For a lot of the children we take there, it's their first ever holiday. We also enjoy seeing children take their first steps, or smile for the first time.

My background in teaching has helped with fostering, not just in terms of knowledge of children but also confidence and dealing with parents – as a foster carer, you often have to deal with birth parents.

Some younger people might be put off fostering as it's not particularly well paid. But there is a lot of work being done to ensure we are paid more. In any case, even though our income has gone down by a fifth in the last five years, we've never been happier.

We honestly believe we have the best job in the world. You get children who are damaged emotionally, who are unsure and scared, and you build up their confidence and give them the strength to cope with their future journey – whether that's going on to be adopted or going back to their birth family. It's such a privilege. Just today, I've been introducing a little girl to her new family and it's wonderful watching them fall in love."