WORKING with children has always been a passion for 52-year-old Elaine.
But actually caring for them in her own home proved to be a very different - but more rewarding - challenge.
For many children, foster carers provide vital safe havens at difficult times in their lives. But in Kirklees there is a shortage of people opening up their hearts and homes to children in need.
Now, the council has launched a campaign - entitled Space In Your Life, Space In Your Home - to encourage more people to become foster carers.
Elaine, who did not want to give her full name to avoid being traced by parents, was born in Hull and spent time there as a childminder.
For four years, she was a `sponsored' childminder, meaning that she received money from social services to look after certain children.
It was through doing this that she first heard about foster care - but at the time she did not apply.
Eight years ago, she moved to Slaithwaite and four years ago she saw an advert for foster carers.
Elaine - a single mum- had three grown-up children and decided she had room in her life for more youngsters.
She said: "I had thought about it on and off. Then I saw the advert and decided to do it.
"It feels like I can't remember having ever done anything other than this."
Elaine fosters children aged up to five on a short-term basis, which means they can stay with her for just a day or up to two years.
She said being a foster carer was different from what she expected.
She added: "It's not a hard process to become a foster carer, but there are certain things you have to do.
"It takes around six to 12 months. It's not a case of just deciding one day and then getting a child the next.
"All I wanted to do was look after young children. I didn't expect to be keeping records and doing paperwork. But you have to."
Elaine said she had no problems with her own children over the fact that she was fostering others.
Her youngest daughter - aged 16 - still lives at home and is popular with the foster children.
Elaine also has two children who have left home - a son of 34 and a 31-year-old daughter, who is now a foster carer herself.
Elaine said: "She started off just wanting to be a respite carer, so she could help me. But last year she became a foster carer herself."
Elaine said having your own children was no preparation for foster caring.
She said: "It's very different from bringing up your own children. You are caring for them, but they are not ultimately your responsibility. You have to ask about things you'd normally take for granted - like going on holiday or making doctor's appointments for the child.
"You do get very attached, but you have to learn to let go."
Elaine does not work because for the past nine months she has cared for a very young foster baby, but she said some foster parents can work. Foster carers do not need to own their own home and do not have to be part of a couple. Age is also not an issue, providing the carer is over 21.
Elaine said: "It is all about suiting the child's needs. Different people suit different children. It's not about age and material possessions. It is the time and ability to nurture the children that matters.
"It is all about making a child feel safe and secure. You need to be patient and non-judgmental. It can be hard, but it's rewarding."
Elaine said fostering does not have to be a long-term commitment. She said: "I could have a break and not take a child for a few months. But I wouldn't know what to do with myself!"
When children leave her, Elaine is obviously curious about what happens to them. But sometimes foster carers never find out.
She added: "Some families want to forget it's ever happened and don't really keep in touch. So you assume that if you don't hear anything, everything's OK.
"But we do hear from some children again. It's nice to know how they are."
Elaine said people should not let worries about money or inexperience prevent them considering becoming a foster carer.
She said: "When you start as a carer you are supplied with whatever you need and then you get allowances for things like clothing. You also get a lot of training and support from social services.
"People are supportive. Even people just saying that you are doing a good job is really helpful."
This year, there are about 230 children needing foster homes in Kirklees - but only around 100 carers.
* To find out more about foster care, contact Kirklees Council Family Placement Unit on 01924 483707, email email@example.com or visit www.kirklees.gov.uk/fostering