A busy mum of three whose experiences of foster care as a teenager inspired her to open her home as a respite sanctuary for adults with complex needs has won a top care award.
Former mental health support worker Michaela Stone, 28, from Merthyr Tydfil, successfully fostered her 13-year-old brother for five years once she was old enough to be his primary carer.
Once he turned 18 in 2020, Michaela joined the South East Wales Shared Lives scheme so she could continue to provide him with the complex care he needed from her family home.
Before long, the 28-year-old mum had opened her doors to other vulnerable individuals to provide much-needed respite to their parents and carers in a safe and happy family environment – and in some cases offering a more permanent home.
This dedication has now seen her scoop a coveted gold award in the Exceptional Newcomer category, sponsored by Barchester Healthcare, in this year’s Wales Care Awards.
The annual event is hosted by social care champions Care Forum Wales which supports more than 450 care homes, nursing homes and other independent health and social care providers across Wales.
Michaela collected her award from The Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Graham Hinchey, at a glittering ceremony at City Hall in Cardiff, hosted by popular tenor, Wynne Evans, best known as Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV ads.
“I was completely overwhelmed,” she said.
“Just getting through to the finals was something, never mind receiving a gold award. It was very emotional.
“Everybody nominated for an award from the Shared Lives Scheme won gold which speaks volumes really for the difficult and demanding jobs we do.
“One of the couples there had worked for 30 years plus and talked about how their son had made such huge progress through their work. To hear that they are still doing this work and the success it had had on their children was unbelievable. That’s exactly where I want to be in 30 years. It was really touching.”
Michaela, who has a daughter aged three and two sons aged six and nine, previously worked as a mental health support worker for Heather Wood Court rehabilitation hospital in Pontypridd but said her own childhood experiences led her to consider fostering.
“I was in foster care from the age of 14 and stayed until I was 18,” she explained.
“Myself and my brother were cared for together and my sister was separated. My foster mum was amazing and opened so many doors for me, it really inspired me. To go through that experience, I just thought I could do this myself.
“In the beginning, I was a foster carer for my brother. Once he went into adult social care, I was introduced to the Shared Lives Scheme and we were able to continue to provide care working from home.
Michaela has supported eight individuals since joining the scheme and is currently undertaking a Level 4 qualification in Health and Social Care.
“One individual I provided respite for refused to go back to his permanent home and so ended up staying and fitted in really well,” she said.
“I now have another long-term gentleman living with me, with Down’s syndrome. He’s such a lovely chap. My daughter gets up every morning and calls him out of bed! He so fits into our family.
“One of the other gentlemen I provide respite care for has a very rare disease and is the only person in the UK with the condition – and one of only 130 in the world. There’s limited information available about this condition but the condition can present this young man with up to five seizures a day.
“Individuals can have respite up to 28 days a year but the arrangement with this particular gentleman’s social worker means he can have as much respite as his parent needs.”
It was Michaela’s selflessness and passion for helping people that led to colleagues nominating her for a Wales Care Award.
Sharon Savory, Shared Lives Coordinator Said: “In this short time of Michaela being a Shared Lives Carer she has devoted herself to improving and enriching the lives of those who access her support.
“Michaela is compassionate, caring, kind, proactive, non-judgemental, a patient Carer who always strives to advocate for vulnerable people and achieve the best possible outcomes through her tireless hard work, commitment and dedication, while being a busy mum of 3.
Gemma James, Shared Lives worker, said: “I’m so happy for Michaela, she’s over the moon.
“There’s often so much information in the paperwork that accompanies an individual and it can sometimes feel daunting, but nothing fazes Michaela and she says everyone deserves a chance.
“She takes a keen interest in the individuals she supports and uses their interests to her advantage. If an individual is a little bit scared by the process as they’ve never been in respite before, I know Michaela will make them feel very much at home with her. She really deserves this award.”
Mario Kreft MBE, Chair of Care Forum Wales, said the ceremony was all the more poignant because of the Covid pandemic and what front line staff had endured.
He said: “I would like to pay a heartfelt tribute to all the wonderful people who work in social care after they rose magnificently and courageously to meet the unprecedented challenges they have faced over the past couple of years.
“We have always recognised their true value and hopefully now the rest of Wales is also aware of how lucky we are as a nation to have them providing care and safeguarding our most vulnerable people.
“Our finalists are the best of the best and are here representing the whole social care workforce who all deserve a big pat on the back.
“There are only winners here tonight so it is only fitting that the finalists will receive 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 and in the months and years to come.
“In the words of the powerful song, Heroes of our Heart, written by the acclaimed poet Mererid Hopwood and sung by Sir Bryn Terfel, let the Diolch last forever.
”We take our hats off to them.”