A care home manager whose family heartbreak helped “put her in the shoes” of her clients won one of the main awards at the social care Oscars.

Karen Rogers, who is manager of Llys y Seren Residential Care Home in Port Talbot, has won the coveted gold award in the Dignity in Care category, sponsored by the Welsh Government, at the Wales Care Awards 2018.

The achievement represents a double success for the 52-year-old, who was also presented with a bronze award in the Leadership and Management in Residential Care category, sponsored by Christie and Co.

Now in their 15th year, the national awards are organised by care industry champions Care Forum Wales which is also toasting 25 years’ of service this year. Sponsored this year by Onyx Healthcare, they acknowledge the hard work and exceptional performances of those in the care sector.

Karen was presented with her award by Huw Irranca-Davies AM, Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care, at a glittering awards ceremony held at City Hall in Cardiff.

It was a dream come true for the care boss, who lives in Margam and who has barely had a day off sick in 30 years’ despite suffering a series of family tragedies and coping with the ongoing needs of her 16-year-old daughter who has learning difficulties.

“I was so shocked. It was overwhelming but it was a lovely evening and I was so proud,” said Karen, who attended the ceremony with husband John Rogers, 48, a science laboratory technician.

“We had three staff from Llys y Seren and five from the POBL Group (which owns the home) in line for awards and I was very proud for both myself and the company as a whole.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet but it is an absolute honour to be recognised and considered for such an award and to be praised by the judges. There was a lot of good competition and I was just pleased to receive a bronze in the leadership and management category. I was shocked to hear my name mentioned for the gold.”

Karen’s job has kept her going since she lost her younger sister, Gayle Clement, 42, to a heart attack four years ago and became the main carer to her two children. Two years later, she also became the main carer for their mother, Margaret Perry, 78, who suffers with dementia, when their father died of lung cancer.

The former Tesco worker, who also has a 21-year-old daughter, took on her first social care role 34 years ago, initially as a care assistant at Morawelon, which has since closed. She then became a care officer and later the assistant manager at Min Yr Afon in 1992 and took on the additional responsibilities of managing Morfa Afon in 2005.

Karen was managing both homes and preparing to move the 60 residents into the brand new Llys Y Seren when she suffered the sudden loss of her sister.

“We closed the two homes and opened another and I lost my sister all at the same time,” she said.

“I have two children of my own and became the main carer for my sister’s children who were 13 and 18 at the time. Somehow, I still managed to move 60 residents into a new home.

“It was very stressful but I had something to focus on and you just get on with things.

“It’s a very rewarding job and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I always say I’m going to retire soon but I’m still here.

“This job has taught me so much. Everybody behaves the way they do for a reason and we must stop and think before we make judgements.”

Karen, whose mother has now moved into Llys Y Seren for round-the-clock support, said her experiences of nursing her mother through dementia has changed the way she handles her job.

“It’s hard when a member of your family is personally affected. You can see the relative’s point of view and know how they feel,” she said.

“I’d like to think it makes me a better manager. I treat our residents the same as I would like my own relatives to be treated.

“It’s lovely to see the residents’ happy and making sure their lives are fulfilled. I live my life through them. I would like to think I’m more compassionate because of my experiences.”

Nominating Karen for her award, Catrin Fletcher, director of care and support for the POBL Group, said: “The care home is frequently praised for being a ‘home’ for the residents as the atmosphere and culture created by Karen has ensured people feel safe and secure and that it is their own home.”

Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, said: “There are only winners here tonight so it is only fitting that the finalists have receivee a gold, silver or bronze Wales Care Award.

“I trust that they will continue to inspire those around them as role models and encourage others to aspire to even greater heights in the months and years to come.

“This awards ceremony is our opportunity to pay tribute and to celebrate the talent and commitment that is improving the quality of life for thousands and thousands of people throughout Wales.

“We take our hats off to them.”