A young support worker who balances life as the primary carer for her mum with a fulltime job helping people with complex mental health needs has won national recognition for her efforts.

Ellie Jones, 20, joined the care industry just two years ago but has now earned herself a coveted bronze award in this year’s Wales Care Awards – the care sector equivalent to the Oscars.

Since joining Liberty Care Ltd in Blackwood, Caerphilly, as a support worker and being quickly promoted to senior support worker, the former Ystrad Mynach student has continually impressed her team – so much so they repeatedly nominate her for staff member of the month.

The care worker, who supports five women with mental health needs in a supported living home, then found herself shortlisted for the Exceptional Newcomer Award, sponsored by Barchester Healthcare, at the national 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.

Ellie, from Blackwood, accepted 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, where she was presented with her bronze award.

“I’m very surprised but proud to be shortlisted out of all the nominees,” she said.

“Being put forward for an award was more than enough for me but to find out I am shortlisted has been overwhelming. I’m very chuffed and proud.

“There’s nothing I regret about coming into this role. I love my job and just coming into work and making a difference is a massive achievement for me and seeing people progress is really rewarding.”

Ellie’s colleagues put her success down to her natural ability to empathise and put herself in the shoes of her service users – skills born by her experience as the main carer for her mother over the past five years.

“I was 14 or 15 when my mum had her first stroke,” she said.

“My mum had great difficulty with her physical abilities from that point including personal care so I would support my mum in that area and help her with her benefits. I also had to take on the role of being a young carer for younger three siblings and then my grandparents became quite unwell too.

“These experiences have helped me in different ways. It has helped me to recognise dignity as obviously with my mum it was quite deflating for her to be showered. I tried to find ways of helping her feel more comfortable and now I apply that to my role to ensure the dignity of the ladies I support.

“It has allowed me to be more compassionate and I think it has allowed me to adapt as a person and become more confident and push myself to limits I didn’t think were possible. I never thought I would be able to contact GPs for myself let alone for someone else.

“It can be difficult as I don’t get a lot of time to myself. On my days off I’m making up for the time I was in work and making sure I’m able to take my mum to appointments and cooking, cleaning and administering medicine.”

Ellie was nominated for her award by Sue Smith, Team Leader at Liberty Care Ltd.

She said: “When Ellie first came to us she had just turned 18 but was extremely natural in the way she interacted with service users.

“She made an instant impression but more so because that support was delivered during the pandemic when the impact on mental health was quite significant.

“For me this young girl of 18, having never worked in care before, was standing out as an individual who worked naturally with individuals in times of crisis and was making a difference to them.

“I’m absolutely chuffed to pieces for her. Ellie has worked hard and still does. She goes above and beyond to make sure the ladies she supports have good quality care.”

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.”