A carer who opened her home to adults in need following on from the heartbreak of losing her adopted daughter is in the running for a major award.
Caroline Ross Downie, 59, of Llandudno, has been named as a shortlisted finalist at the prestigious Wales Care Awards, known as the social care Oscars.
For many years, she fostered dozens of young people living with disabilities but when personal tragedy struck she decided to transfer her energies into adult care.
Caroline and her late husband, Ross, adopted baby Kara when she was 10 months old.
She said: “She was a wonderful source of joy in our lives. She had severe disabilities but we overcame them and she was a key part of our family, along with my two other children, Louise and Phillip.”
When Kara became ill Caroline spent a lot of time in hospital with her before she died aged just 13.
Caroline said: “It was traumatic for all of us. I took time off for a while, but caring is what I do, I had to go back to it. It’s not a job, it’s something I love. I started full time caring again but changed direction slightly to care for adults.”
Caroline is now a Shared Lives carer with PSS, which recently celebrated its centenary of work in the care sector and has a base in Abergele.
Shared lives offers respite, short-term breaks and live-in support for vulnerable adults and young people and operates in a similar way to foster care. Caroline is one of a team of specially recruited, trained carers who share their homes with young adults in need.
She said: “I was incredulous on hearing I’d been nominated for an award because I never think of what I do as a job or a chore. It’s so rewarding being able to support people, that’s enough in itself.”
Caroline will be attending the awards ceremony at Cardiff City Hall on Friday, October 18, hosted by tenor and radio presenter Wynne Evans, better known as Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV ads.
She is nominated in the Leading Practice in Learning Disability and Mental Health Services category, sponsored by Morgan La Roche.
She was put forward by PSS Shared Lives Development Worker, Katrina Jones, who said: “Caroline is a caring and reliable individual who has been a carer since childhood. She has faced many challenges but has turned these experiences into positives and uses all of her experiences to help others.”
As a child Caroline looked after her ailing mum who died when she was 14. She also cared for her three younger siblings much of the time. Following their mum’s death Caroline was placed in foster homes and children’s homes so has first hand experience of the care sector.
She believes this gave her an acute understanding of issues faced by people in care and she strives to ensure her home is a welcoming and friendly environment. She has learned Welsh so she can also care for first language Welsh speakers and give the extended family a sense of the Welsh culture.
She currently has two adults full time, one of whom she recently helped battle through cancer. She offers regular respite placements for about nine others.
She said: “It’s a pretty full house here, but I like it that way. I feel lost if there’s no-one at home. We’re always doing activities together – sports, social outings, parties and the like. We’re quite an energetic bunch.”
Chair of Care Forum Wales, Mario Kreft, said Caroline was an example of the many wonderful people for whom being a carer is not a job but a vocation.
He said: “These are the people who really do have the X Factor and whose contribution deserves to be spotlighted through the Wales Care Awards, which are now a highlight of the Welsh social care calendar.”
He added: “The aim is to recognise the unstinting, often remarkable dedication of unsung heroes and heroines across Wales.
“If you don’t recognise those who do the caring you’ll never provide the standards people need and never recognise the value of people who need care in society.
“We must do all we can to raise the profile of the care sector workforce who deserve to be lauded and applauded.
“It’s a pleasure to honour the contribution of all the finalists. Each and every one of them should be very proud of their achievement.”