When Amanda Boorman adopted her daughter, Jazz, she struggled to find support. So she decided to set up her own haven. Now she is organising a conference for adopters. Nicky Solloway reports.
With its 1950s caravans, antique furniture and quirky second-hand finds, La Rosa campsite in the North York Moors would be a dream holiday for most children.
Surrounded by fields and forests, it has a playful feel. There’s a roll top bath in the orchard, a gramophone player in the shower block and a mini caravan tuck shop filled with jars of old-fashioned sweets.It’s the sort of place Amanda Boorman, who runs La Rosa with her friend, Claudia Mariette, would have wanted to bring her own daughter for holidays.
When Amanda adopted Jazz 15 years ago, no one really spoke about attachment disorder, but it was a term that Amanda would become all too familiar with.
Early experiences of being removed from her birth parents 10 times, and being sent to different foster carers – often in the middle of the night – had left Jazz with severe attachment disorder. The fiery five-year-old tested Amanda to the very limit.
Now Amanda, 51, has set up a charity, The Open Nest, to help other adoptive families access the support they need. They are offering free short breaks to adoptive families.
“It’s for families who are on the brink,” says Amanda. “The charity was born from personal experience. We want to help others who are facing similar struggles.”
The charity is also organising its first conference in York on Saturday, and will draw attention to the issues facing adoptive parents.
A single mum, Amanda struggled to get the support she needed when Jazz was young. She lived in a small village near York and worked part-time in a bookshop, but caring for Jazz soon became a full-time job.
“I had to give it all up and ended up with no job, no money and having to remortgage my house.”
The village, which had seemed like a perfect place to bring up a child, also became quite isolating.
“Jazz was an unusual child and some were uncomfortable with her behaviour. She would scream and shout and she was sent home from school.”
She moved to York, where she thought she would receive more support. But Jazz was expelled from two more schools and Amanda, who trained as a social worker, battled with social services to get her daughter some therapeutic help.
“We went through hell and back and it was only because of my resilience and group effort that we got through it,” she says. Amanda also applied to adopt Jazz’s brother, Justin, who was in a children’s home, but was told by a child psychologist that the siblings should not be cared for in the same home. After a six-year wait, Claudia stepped in and fostered Justin so the siblings could see one another.
Despite the difficult times, Amanda and Claudia started their La Rosa café at festivals such as Glastonbury, and served up homemade cakes in vintage tea sets. One evening while discussing their problems with their friend David Owen, they hit upon a business idea that might just work. Why not take the café idea one step further and set up an eco-campsite using gypsy and airstream caravans and old memorabilia?
The three of them sold their houses and found a property with 20 acres of land to lease on the North York Moors near Whitby. They noticed that green space was therapeutic for Jazz and that the countryside had a calming effect. She was also able to be home-schooled with a teacher who came to the site three days a week.
“It worked out really well,” says Amanda. “Some of it was luck but most of it was just sheer determination.”
In 2008 they expanded and opened La Rosa hotel in a Victorian house on West Cliff in Whitby, where Lewis Carroll stayed during his many visits to the seaside town. The hotel has an Alice-in-Wonderland feel, with eight double bedrooms and a “crow’s nest” apartment, all furnished with antique beds and flea market finds. David, who is also an artist, works at La Rosa hotel and Amanda and Claudia run the campsite, each living in their own house. Between them they have developed a business that worked for them and worked for the children.
So far 12 families have come to La Rosa for short breaks. They stay in a converted barn, complete with glass chandeliers and a cosy wood-burning stove. A separate outhouse provides a composting toilet with views out across the moors.
There’s also the option to stay in a vintage Bluebird caravan, which is decorated with colourful fabrics, quirky picture frames and 1950s knick-knacks.
Amanda and Claudia are now applying for Ofsted registration to offer childcare during the day and proper respite for adoptive parents.
They have also had a grant from the Normanby Charitable Trust to convert a stable block into a playroom with soft play area, plus a communal kitchen, which they hope to finish by next summer. As for Jazz, she is now 20, and lives in a separate house near the campsite, with 24-hour support from two care workers. As an adult, she was able to access much more support than Amanda could ever find for her as a child. Now fairly settled, she is a trustee of the charity and is about to start a joinery course.
Amanda and Jazz have made a very personal film about their amazing journey, which they will be showing at the Open Nest conference. Revealing an alternative way of caring for emotionally damaged children, the hope is it will inspire people working in the care system as well as other adoptive parents.
For more information visit www.theopennest.co.uk or www.larosa.co.uk.
Recent figures show that the number of adoptions has gone up by 26 per cent. Few children go into the adoption process unscathed, however.
Research from Professor Julie Selwyn at the University of Bristol’s Hadley Centre for Adoption and Foster Care Studies, reveals that a third of families who adopt will experience major disruption.
The Open Nest conference takes place in York on Saturday, October 18, at The Royal York Hotel from 11am to 5pm. Guest speakers include adoptee Fran Proctor talking about ‘trauma’ and writer and adopter Sally Donovan, on how to be an effective advocate for children. Tickets cost £25 and there is a social in the evening.The Open Nest is also putting on an art exhibition in London next month. Severance is a collection of sculpture, installations, photography and film highlighting the different experiences of those involved with adoption.
• The exhibition will run at Family Futures in Islington from November 15-16.