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 been shortlisted for a top award.

Former mental health support worker Michaela Stone 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 from Merthyr Tydfil, near Cardiff, 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 put her in the running for the Exceptional Newcomer Award, 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 will now join dozens of care workers at a glittering ceremony at City Hall in Cardiff on Friday, October 21, hosted by popular tenor, Wynne Evans, best known as Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV ads.

“I was overwhelmed when I found out I’d been nominated,” she said.

“I felt really shocked. When I had the phone call to say I’d got through to the final I just cried. It was both overwhelming and emotional.

“I absolutely thrive on being busy and love my job. My children are phenomenal. Because they’ve grown up with their home as a care setting, they’ve been able to see that people can struggle in life and have complex needs.

“It’s really rewarding. This job is definitely my future and my present. I honestly don’t think I could turn away from it now.

“Everything I do is done to the best of my abilities.”

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 aim of the Wales Care Awards was to recognise the unstinting and remarkable dedication of unsung heroes and heroines across Wales.

He said “The social care sector is full of wonderful people because it’s not just a job, it’s a vocation – these are people who go the extra mile for others.

“During the Covid crisis, this fantastic workforce rose magnificently to the challenge, putting their own lives on the line to do everything they possibly could to safeguard the people for whom they provide care.

“Unfortunately, it has taken a global pandemic for many other people to realise how important and how significant our social care workforce is.

“Their incredible contribution was summed up best in the powerful and emotive words of the song, Heroes of our Heart, written by the acclaimed poet Mererid Hopwood and sung by Sir Bryn Terfel, which was set to the famous tune of Men of Harlech. The message that the diolch should last forever is one that we should never forget.”