Jaylee Maylin Coles was six when she became a young carer for her four-year-old brother and 12 when she was taken into care. The strain made it hard for her to engage with school and by the age of 14 she’d been permanently excluded from two high schools and begun to smoke cannabis

Now 19, Jaylee said the disruption and stress had made her “rebellious and rude” at school. She was devastated to be separated from her brother and mother when she was taken into care and “angry with the world”.

Taken out of care when she was aged 13 to live with her grandmother, things carried on going downhill and Jaylee stole from her relative to buy drink and cigarettes. “I got bullied at school, struggled to fit in and that made me act up - I was angry with everything and it crushed me,” she said. You can get more story updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletters here.

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College student Jaylee Maylin Coles from Blackwood, 19
“I would go and smoke cannabis when I was 13. I think I was self medicating because I needed to chill and I think that was one of the reasons I was kicked out of school," says Jaylee, now 19 and in college.

“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. It made me push back in other areas of my life, including education.”

Jaylee's education was disrupted completely when she was expelled from Heolddu Comprehensive in year eight aged 12 and sent to Risca Comprehensive which also expelled her, aged 14. Sent on to Lewis Boys School, she got enough GCSEs during the pandemic in 2020 to start a beauty course at Coleg y Cymoedd’s Ystrad Mynach campus, but was kicked off that course too.

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If all this seems like a recipe for disaster the teenager was admitted back at the same college on a different course last September and, with support from the welfare team, has begun to turn her life around. She has been appointed as college ambassador to help other young carers while she studies business.

Looking back, Jaylee is not surprised she got into trouble. She admitted her schools did offer help but she didn’t want to take it at the time because academic work didn’t feel important when family life was falling apart. “I became a carer for my younger brother when he was four and I was six. My mum had just had a newborn and my step dad was away a lot.

“I would get him dressed every morning and get him food. I did go to primary school and there were lots of aunties to walk to school with, but it was a struggle. I was expelled from school aged 12 and 14 and me and my brother ended up in care. I was in the first year of high school in year seven when we were taken into care and separated.

“When I was taken into care the school was aware and I stayed with a lovely family, but it was really disruptive for schooling. I could not see my mum and was upset being separated from my brother.” Support award-winning journalism with WalesOnline’s Premium app on Apple or Android

Student Jaylee Maylin Coles, 19, with Laura Wilson, wellbeing officer and carers lead at Coleg y Cymoedd
Jaylee, with Laura Wilson, wellbeing officer and carers lead at Coleg y Cymoedd

Jaylee said she became “rebellious and confidently rude” and smoked and drank with people she realises now “were not my friends". “I would go and smoke cannabis when I was 13. I think I was self-medicating because I needed to chill and I think that was one of the reasons I was kicked out of school.

“It felt like everyone around me saw me as a nasty person. I was really angry and depressed. I was angry with everything and it crushed me. The schools did want to support me but I did not want that help. I was defiant and had grown up not trusting people. I lived with my nan after leaving care but I was pinching her fags and pinching money from her to buy drink.”

Jaylee said she “got back on track” briefly at Lewis Boys School where other pupils and teachers helped and she began to realise she needed GCSEs. But things went wrong again when she started a beauty course at Coleg y Cymoedd in September, 2020, and got kicked off that too. After that the teenager “took a year off” before the college agreed to re-admit her on a business course. She was offered help and said she had grown up enough now to accept it.

“They they let me come back after I was expelled. I met Laura in college welfare and got counselling and am now getting the mental health support I need. I did not think I needed it before. But now I am older I am more receptive.”

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Jaylee Maylin Coles from Blackwood, 19
Jaylee is in a better place now

Jaylee in a better place now and the brother she was a young carer for is now 17 and about to go to college. While this is all positive news, Jaylee said more targeted help should be offered to young carers and others with family problems earlier on in school. She believed many of the children absent from lessons or acting up had problems in their personal lives that they couldn't cope with.

“I would say to schools that there needs to be more help and understanding for young carers and people with family set-backs. It’s not easy to do homework with all that going on and they need to be more flexible with time tables.”

She said she had “put a bit of a front on for years”. Another part of that front was her gender - Jaylee came out as trans aged 18. Now Jaylee has big hopes and ambitions for the future and is working with the college’s wellbeing officer and carers lead, Laura Wilson. The college said that over the past six months, Laura had helped Jaylee develop a more flexible working pattern that supported her studies and the role she still had caring for her other young siblings still at home.

As a learner ambassador and wellbeing advocate for Coleg y Cymoedd she’s hosted talks at the Nantgarw campus as well as attending open days and events to meet and help guide other young carers facing hurdles but considering college. She is determined to go to university and is also working with the college’s ‘Reaching Wider Project’, an online support programme run with Cardiff Metropolitan University and the University of South Wales, to help young carers and “under represented individuals” with applications to Welsh universities.

“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.”

Coleg y Cymoedd's wellbeing officer and carers lead Laura Wilson 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. 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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