From education to employment

Young Carer turns life around thanks to second chance with valleys college

A young carer who spent her teen years in and out of education before getting a second chance thanks to the support of a Welsh college is looking forward to starting afresh and is urging other young people with caring duties to reach out for the help they need to succeed.

19-year-old JayLee Maylin Coles from Blackwood grew up caring for her four younger siblings and struggled to balance her studies with her caring role and general life as a young person, leading to a tumultuous relationship with education.

Spending most of her teenage years moving around different schools and colleges, JayLee realised something needed to change if she wanted to forge a successful career for herself in the future.

With dreams of one day running her own businesses and believing university would be an integral part of her entrepreneurial journey, the aspiring entrepreneur has decided to turn things around after being given another opportunity to succeed by studying at Coleg y Cymoedd.

After signing up for the college’s Business course at its Ystrad Mynach campus in September 2023, Jaylee was immediately put in contact with the college’s Wellbeing Officer and Carers Lead, Laura Wilson, who worked directly with JayLee to assist her return.

Over the past six months, Laura has helped JayLee develop a more flexible working pattern that supports both her education and role caring for her siblings – support that has transformed JayLee’s behaviour and approach to education.

Such is her commitment to her studies; JayLee has since been appointed as a Learner Ambassador and wellbeing advocate for Coleg y Cymoedd. The role has seen her host talks at the Nantgarw campus as well as attend numerous open days and events to meet with and guide other young carers who are considering college and face similar barriers to those JayLee has overcome.

Looking ahead, JayLee is now determined to go to university to study business or law and has been introduced by Laura to the college’s ‘Reaching Wider Project’, an online support programme run with Cardiff Metropolitan University and the University of South Wales, designed to help young carers and underrepresented individuals bolster their applications and secure places at Welsh Universities.

JayLee said:

“I have come a long way and my accomplishments over the past seven months just go to show what can happen when you have the right support networks around you. I am incredibly grateful to Coleg y Cymoedd and the Wellbeing Team who have extended a helping hand to me and shown compassion and understanding – something I really needed. I now want to pass that kindness onwards and support others.

“I didn’t choose to become a young carer, but complications in my family life meant I was leant on for support. I tried my best to help look after my siblings, especially my youngest brother, by cooking food, packing lunches and ensuring clothes were clean. I had a lot of responsibility to deal with at home and it made me push back in other areas of my life, including education.

“I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t asked for help. That’s why I’ve made it my mission to make sure other carers know what support systems are available to them, so they don’t make the same mistakes I did.”

Alongside her role as a Learner Ambassador, JayLee has become an integral part of the college’s Wellbeing Team, accompanying staff to talks and events at other campuses, offering a valuable insight into the wellbeing, safety, and support systems available at Coleg y Cymoedd. JayLee is also in talks to launch a Coleg y Cymoedd student podcast that she hopes to use to make topics like wellbeing more accessible within the community.

Laura Wilson, Wellbeing Officer and Carers Lead at Coleg y Cymoedd, said:

“The moment I met JayLee, I knew that she was an incredibly influential yet misunderstood person. We have seen a dramatic change in Jaylee’s behaviour since her return to college and it has been a joy to watch her surpass her own expectations and witness her positive nature rub off on the learners she supports. JayLee’s story is testament to how the right support can catapult an individual into success.”

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