Covid hero Sarah Russell is in the running for an award for her efforts to secure a place for a young man with autism at a specialist residential school during the Covid crisis.

Sarah, the Education and Care Principal at Orbis’ Tŷ Bronllys near Brecon, will be a finalist at the prestigious Wales Care Awards, dubbed the Oscars of social care.

She has been shortlisted for the Peter Clarke Award for Promoting Excellence in Services for Children and Young People, sponsored by La Roche.

Sarah became the first Principal at Orbis in 2022, leading its care and education services under one role for the first time in its 15-year history.

The group offers specialist schools and residential homes for children and adults with complex needs associated with autism and social, emotional and mental health needs, and is one of the UK’s leading specialist providers.

The Wales Care Awards, sponsored by healthcare products company Ontex UK, is being held on Friday, October 21st and will be hosted by popular tenor Wynne Evans.

Sarah, from Caerphilly, was nominated for her efforts in helping the young man who “presented with significant and complex behaviour”.

She said: “I went along and met him and his family and agreed a plan for his first residential placements.

“Working with a team of specialist carers, behavioural experts, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists, we organised everything from the initial assessment right through to staff training, coaching, mentoring supporting and modelling how best to support this young man.

“Doing so during the Covid-19 restrictions made the task even more challenging, but it worked.

“He is now able to learn again and does so with only minimal support. He is also able to access the community frequently, something which sadly he had been unable to do for some time, and recently was able to return home for a holiday which is something his mum never thought he’d be able to do.”

Sarah says she is delighted to be nominated for the award, adding that it “means everything to me.”

She continued: “It recognises how collaborating with others can work in difficult circumstances. It is also a credit to the team who worked so hard to deal with this challenging issue. I was the manager but there was a large team working together towards the same goal and I know the mother of this young man is very happy at the outcome.”

Lisa Cowles, Head of Therapies at Orbis Education and Care, said her work was “challenging but truly remarkable”.

She said: “The young person has made immense progress, increased his independence, is dependent upon fewer staff, has fewer restrictions, enjoys his life and is enjoying his relationships with his family. Sarah’s work has been inspiring and, as such, I also took the opportunity to share it with the All-Wales Community of Practice for Children and Young People.”

“Also, as a by-product, her work has enabled a family to get their lives back, improving their relationships and quality of their lives across the board. It is also something which has inspired his Mum to go and work in a special school, to, in her words, “give something back.”

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.

“All the nominees deserve to be lauded and applauded and it’s a real pleasure to honour the contribution of all the finalists. I congratulate all the individuals who have shown outstanding dedication and professionalism. Every one of them should be proud of their achievement. They are Wales’s finest.”