Monday, 22 April 2013

Rhodes Farm

Yesterday, I once again found myself perusing Youtube for ED documentaries
It's becoming something of a Sunday afternoon ritual
I stumbled across one about Rhodes Farm
Some of will know Rhodes farm
It's a treatment centre in the UK for children and adolescents run by Dee Dawson
At least she used to run it, apparently another company have taken it over

I'm not sure exactly when this documentary was made, I'm guessing the early 90's or even late 80's but I know more recent ones have been made since including 'Dana, the 8 year old anorexic'
Dee described how she used to work in a hospital as a paediatric nurse and saw children coming in that refused to eat
She thought to herself that if she could only bring them home, then she would surely get them to eat
So that's exactly what she did
She opened her home to children and teenagers with eating disorders
Many of whom already had multiple hospitalisations
At first I was watching the footage and there were these tiny children wandering around and I was thinking 'Who are they?'
Then I realised they were Dee's own children
This was literally her home and her family and her patients all lived together
I was also surprised and somewhat perplexed to see Dee breastfeeding one of her children while in a session with parents
I'm pretty sure that would never happen today
But I guess whatever works

We were introduced to a few of the teenagers
Simon really stood out to me
He spoke in a slow drawl and wore raggedy clothes
He was near death when he came to Rhodes Farm and Dee herself admitted he was an extremely difficult case
In his own words he said he was 'worthless'
But his personality shone through and he was so likeable
There was a touching scene with him and Dee's husband trying to cook and burning the food
Simon came across as very troubled
He absolutely hated himself
But even so it was obvious he has amazing potential

Another girl made for heart breaking viewing
Standing at 5'10 she weighed a meagre 41kilos
We saw her talking to Dee and telling her that she thought her mother also had an eating disorder
The girl left Rhodes Farm shortly after because they could not get funding for her stay
She left in the same sorry state the she came in

But the girl I could really identify with was Jackie
A soft spoken red head
At home she studied ballet, the one thing that brought her joy
We saw her watching videos of herself dancing and weeping
She said she felt like no one noticed her at home
She did dangerous things to get attention
I know that I did that as a teenager
Did outrageous things just to be noticed
Negative attention was better than no attention

I thought that Dee's methods really worked
Just the right blend of kindness and discipline
The kids obviously felt comfortable there
The house seemed to have a happy atmosphere and the kids seemed to thrive on this
The one common denominator I noticed with all the kids was that they all came from unhappy homes
Parents fighting
Parents separating
Parents remarrying
These kids felt unloved
Un noticed
In homes where they had no say and no control over what happened, they turned to the one thing they could control
Food became a weapon in a battle against their parents
They said with their bodies what they couldn't verbally articulate
I know my own home was a very unhappy place growing up
My parents weren't happy
Us kids were definitely not happy
It's actually very hard to describe how things were then
There was a very tense atmosphere in the house
Largely due to my father
He wasn't physically abusive
But he was a drinker and was emotionally abusive
I remember feeling so unsafe at home
He was just so unpredictable
As I grew in to a teenager and my older siblings left home, I was the only child left
I was caught in the middle of my parents fighting and I hated it
I left home the first chance I got and moved away with my boyfriend
My father is now reaping what he sowed
We left
My mother left
We all moved away
He now lives quite a lonely life
He comes to stay with me a couple of nights a week when my mother is working
They actually swap houses which is kind of strange but it seems to work for them
I'm probably the one who spends the most time with him
Now that I'm an adult I can see that he's not all bad
It's not badness that makes him do the things he does
I actually think it's insecurity and a need for control
Just recently when I was in hospital my mother had helped me to the bathroom
When we came back my father had his hand in my mothers bag and was going through her phone
I was just too weak to say anything
But his heart is in the right place
He does his best to help me and I appreciate that

I guess when you grow up you see that things aren't always black and white
I know my parents did the best they could
They couldn't have foreseen the damage the would be caused
I can now see that just because you're an adult, it doesn't mean you know everything
It doesn't mean you've grown up
It doesn't mean you're mature
Adults are just as lost as teenagers sometimes

There were a couple of things that didn't sit right with me though
We saw Dee preparing food one day and I have to say it looked pretty disgusting
Frozen meals that were probably full of preservatives and additives
Now I know  that things were different in the 90's
There wasn't such an emphasis on 'fresh is best'
I appreciate that she was probably doing the best she could on a tight budget and eating anything is better than nothing but you would think that the kids would be taught healthy eating habits

Another part that raised alarm bells for me was when Dee described how she was on a diet
She spoke openly about this
I thought that this was very strange and possibly damaging
On one hand she is teaching these kids that it's ok to eat
But on the other she is doing the opposite
Now there is nothing wrong with an innocent diet
But there are sick kids here and  it just felt all wrong
What kind of message is that sending to them?
'Do as I say, not as I do'
I think that's giving mixed messages to the kids
And that must have been confusing for them

I know that Rhodes Farm is still running
Maybe not quite in such a relaxed way as was shown in this documentary given the way that health and safety is these days but I hope still in the happy and homely atmosphere that Dee has created
It gave updates at the end and most seemed to be doing well
I would love to know how these kids are today
A lot of them would be my age now
Statistics show that 1/3 will have recovered
1/3 will continue to struggle, living somewhere in between their illness and recovery
1/3 will never recover
Shocking but true
I just hope and pray that I am one of the 1/3 that do recover


  1. This sounds really good. I liked 'Dana, the 8 year old anorexic', and I've always thought the other docos made at Rhodes Farm would be quite interesting.
    I hope you're one of the lucky 33% too. Keep fighting dear.

    1. I liked that one too Bella
      Rhodes farm really does great work

      I hope I am too sweetie
      And I hope and pray you are too x

  2. I think Dee Dawson doesn't run it anymore and it was taken over by "Care UK", I don't even think she works there anymore. I've seen that old school doc, I can seem to rewatch ed docs over and over and over.

    I've always wondered how they are doing today as well. I think it would be a good documentary given that the 13 year old are now 20 in the 'i'm a child anorexic' 2006 one, I wonder if the girl who couldn't stop exersizing made it or not.

    I hope you make it sweetheart, you're a fighter, you have every chance of it xxxx

    1. Oh I didn't know that
      I wonder why she doesn't work there anymore

      I haven't seen 'I'm a child anorexic' but I'll definitely check it out
      Yes, I wonder what has happened to these kids too
      They are so young and hopefully because they are getting treatment early they will recover

      I hope so Milly and I sincerely hope that you do too x

  3. Don't believe everything you see in the documentries. Dee Dawson may well have helped many kids but Rhodes Farm had a terrible impact on my sister who was admitted there 3 or 4 times in her teens. in the end, she ran away and after that she was treated elsewhere. The treatment there was controversial. their rules and therapy destroyed a part of me and proved terribly traumatic 4 all my family. dee Dawson no longer runs Rhodes Farm. She sold it o another company. must have made a fortune. She now runs a private weight loss / diet consultancy in Harley Street. I think she charges about 50 quid for 15 mins on the phone.
    When she ran R Farm she was enormous... which is no longer the case. She seemed to have her own issues with weight.
    I'm not usually one for slander, but that woman had dollar bills in her eyes. She imposed a positively brutal regime and caused untold damage. Years after my adolescence, living and working in London, I couldn't look at the word "Mill Hill" on the tube map without my stomach turning
    That woman may appear to be some kind of saint,but believe me, my experience of her I'd entirely opposite to that which you describe.

    1. I can agree with you on the negative experience experienced at the hands of dee dawson. I was only 11 when admitted and I no that what happened to me was illegal (I now work in the care field and also started my mental health nurse training where I discussed my experiences with my tutors who are qualified nurse's themselves and they were appalled) I would not wish my worst enemy to go thru what I went though. Yes it may have saved my life at the time but the years of psychological damage it caused and several other admissions to another hospital and to loose trust in men that you once had (including your own father). I will share one story with you, I appeared on a interview in 1999 on gmtv whilst in Rhodes farm. I had been made to stay up until 5 in the morning eating then was woken at 630 to appear live on national tv at 8 to sit and lie through my teeth that they were helpful and friendly and that I was happy there. At no point was any psychology issues addressed it was feed and out and you had to play by there rules. I still have nightmares 15 years on and I have recovered I can only hope that now care uk own it it is run to a better standard of care.

    2. I was the same, punished fr not following her plan, force fed rolled cheese sandwiches, left in a room until I chose to eat, tormented and double cream put Siena nasal tube! Unreal place, that fucked me up for many years

    3. I am really keen to talk to people about RF. I am a freelance journalist and documentary-maker - you can learn more about me here - Would you be happy to drop me a line at, if you are happy to talk, confidentially? Thanks ever so much.

  4. Oh God, I am so sorry that you had such a traumatic experience there
    I don't doubt that there are many people who a negative experience there
    I know I have had many horrible experiences in treatment
    I guess what works for some does not work for everyone
    We are all individuals and every case needs to be treated differently
    I do remember Dee saying in the documentary that she was on a diet
    I thought that kind of strange given that she was trying to teach these children that size doesn't matter

    I hope you and your sister are doing better these days
    I know how damaging a negative experience in treatment is
    In the last treatment centre I was in I had huge problems with one of the nurses and in the end I left because of it
    And it has also put me off going back

    I appreciate this comment and your honesty, thank you x

  5. If I had to take a guess, I would say that I identify most with Simon. I absolutely hate myself, so much so that words just aren't enough to describe it. I didn't have a happy childhood growing up, either. But that seems so normal now. It would almost be more shocking to find someone who HAS had a happy childhood.
    Like most others, my mom was an abusive alcoholic. Though she never laid a hand on my brother or I, I saw how abusive she was towards my dad. My house was a very violent place, and I was placed in care with other relatives, when my dad thought he could no longer protect me. After we moved away and got away from my mom, my dad became abusive. Not physically, but mentally and emotionally. To this day, he still is. And that's done more damage to me, I think, than what my mom or anyone else could ever do.
    I feel so sad for some of these people, reading their journies. They don't deserve this pain, and neither do you Ruby. I may not know you in real life, but I feel like I know you, a little. Through this blog.
    I do believe that you are one of the ones that will recover. That can recover. Just don't give up fighting, because the moment you do, that's when the battle is lost. You are such an amazing inspiration, to me, and probably to many others. Thank you. Xx

    1. Thank you CJ for your kind words

      You are a star x

  6. You're right Ruby... All experiences are different... Dee Dawson though... ugh! She was just so... so... something. I won't go on!
    It's awful if you have to leave treatment because of someone being nasty. I really hope that you can find something that helps. It's such a hideous balance when it comes to EDs. You often LITERALLY want to bite the hand that feeds you... It's just never going to be nice. :(

    Hope you're doing okay. xx

    1. I don't really know anything about Dee, other than what I saw on the documentary but other people have commented that the place wasn't all good

      I hope I find something that helps too x

  7. I think I watched that documentary and for some reason I remembered being a little put off by the home. Actually most documentaries featuring eating disorder therapy houses seem a little off-putting. Like the one where the kicked the girl out of the house because they thought she was being too insolent. At the end of that show it followed a few patients and none of them were doing well.
    But for some reason I can't remember a lot about this one. Time to give it another watch I guess.

    1. Opinion is really divided on Rhodes Farm and apparently Dee Dawson doesn't run it any more
      I guess I liked the look of it a it seemed homely and relaxed
      But yea do watch it again and let me know what you think x

  8. Replies
    1. Avy you don't even follow her blog!! you are only after followers for your blog!

  9. Rhodes Farm destroyed my parents. There have been several deaths, including two of my very good friends. I was there about 20 years ago - and met Simon (who was lovely by the way!). Do not believe all you see or how things are portrayed. I'm sure it helped some, but it was barbaric and the worst unit I have ever been in.

    1. I'm sorry you had a bad experience
      I hope things have got better for you

      Stay strong x

  10. Fuck I've seen the Rhodes Farm docos a billion times in th alast 5 years and I fucking hate Dee with a passion. Especially the way she talks to some of the kids in the 'I'm a Child Anorexic' doco. CONDESCENDING, IGNORANT COW.

    Lol, for me the negative attention was dangerous and the positive attention never came. I was much happier with NO attention 0.0;

    Growing up and finding out your parents are just people too is such a weird experience. My Mum was emotionally, verbally and physically abuse, Dad just emotionally manipulative. Nothing I did was ever good enough, so I gave up trying. I know why they're the way that they are, but it doesn't change how they've shaped me. All I can do is try to overcome it.

    Funny, one of the people who made me feel safest was an alcoholic friend of Dad's whom my grandparents thought was molesting me. He wasn't, he was just like a big, silly older brother. He let me spend hours listening to taped radio plays while he mucked about pulling his motorbike apart instead of yelling at me to 'go play outside' because it was sunny.

    I want to go back in time and kidnap our ChildSelves and raise them in a happy place where they're encouraged to do what makes them happy and don't have to live in fear.

    Love you so so so much Ruby. Don't give up on yourself, ok? You've already come further than you know <3

    1. Wow, people have some really strong feelings about Dee and Rhodes Farm
      I agree, the way she talked to the kids sometimes was quite patronising
      They're kids, they're not stupid
      But I don't doubt that she wanted to help those kids

      I forget to write it in the post but at one point she was talking about being on a diet and I thought talking about that in front of the kids was way out of order
      Totally inappropriate

      Hope you're ok Peri

      Love you to the moon and back x

  11. We get older but the lucky ones never grow up. I think I spend most of my adult life hidding from responsibility. If i was asked to describe being an adult with one word it would be responsiblity.

  12. In all honesty Rhodes Farm (for me) was awful and to be honest I didn't give it much of a chance and ended up back at great ormund st. but yeh...not good. I think anywhere where they let people make documentaires of vulnerable children is bad. I hated how it pretended to have to worst cases but medically wasn't able to cope. They are lucky more people haven't got refeeding syndrome there.

  13. Rf has got divided opinion, worked for some but not forall and stuff like feeding cream via ng was controversial but no longer done.

    1. They fed people cream, peanut butter and cake blended up via ng when i was there in 2006

  14. It's not as bad as it was back in 1999 or when those videos were made. A LOT of things have changed for the better. I don't agree with all of it, but it does ultimately save lives. It DOES help people to recover and stay well - you have to remember that everyone is different and what works for some may not work for others.
    I personally think it has a much more beneficial effect on younger children - the whole "parents taking back control" thing could work for them - they still have time to be young, grow up and use control positively in their lives. I was 16/17 when I was there and I just wanted to rebel. My mum had controlled a lot of things in my life up until then and I was desperately trying hard to open up and talk about very hurtful things regarding control, and here they were, trying to get her to keep me eating. I left so miserable, eventually i was eating, as many do, just to "stay out the farm". Less than a year later, I went off to uni, grasped the freedom with all of my strength and relapsed worse than before. 1) i was 'free'!, but also, 2) I hadn't been able to take that 'control' back and learn how to feed myself again. there was no real chance I could keep my weight up on my own.
    I don't blame RF for that though. That was me - my circumstances. I also attempted suicide prior to going in - they did save my life in other respects. Anorexia/ any ED is such a lonely and dark world as it is, a lot of the 'hate' comes from the anorexic side not wanting to be attacked. It makes it hard for everyone. True recovery has to come from yourself.
    It's not the healthiest of places (although, i can say it is a million times better than previously), but neither is anorexia, really. Just lettuce won't keep you living, and the diet there isn't forever - but it is vital at the point of admission and to try to kick-start some kind of recovery.
    Having met Dee, she isn't all bad - and I think it's very shallow to say it's all about the money. I don't think she really gets the extent the anorexia can go to sometimes, and, yes, how she talked in some of those documentaries was shocking, but, like so many, she hasn't lived through it. At least she's tried to do something about it, rather than giving in to the social stigma of eds and mental illness.
    It was 9 1/2 months of continuous struggle, and many years still after that. Heck, I ended up on an adult ward again last year and I am still struggling. But, again, that's not the fault entirely of RF. Clearly, I have some things i need to work through, but I am still trying to kick some ED-butt, big time!
    ... Oh, and talking about not being able to look at "Mill Hill", I used to live there and now live about 10 minutes away. I had a huge panic attack driving around Mill Hill in one of my driving lessons in case I had to drive past it! I get freaked out because I only know 'Dee's in relation to my ED, Dee Dawson, one of my many counsellors is called Dee, and an occupational therapist at the hospital last year was also called Dee.
    I have a lot of memories from that time - both good and bad, but overall, I don't think it's that easy to judge, and definitely not right just to write it off as a "torture-prison", especially if you haven't been there, especially if not in very recent years.
    Wishing you the best in recovery and never give up fighting!

    PS A lot of the girls in I'm a Child Anorexic and Dana: The Eight-year-old Anorexic are doing much, much better. I know a couple that still struggle badly and have been in and out of other hospitals, too, and still continue to keep fighting now. That isn't necessarily down to RF, either. We can't fight other people's battles (unfortunately :( ), but we can all fight for better for ourself :)
    Keep strong x

  15. The person who commented that there gave been deaths at Rhodes Farm was incorrect. There have been no deaths. But why ket the truth stop them from making a comment!

    1. Yes there have been deaths. A young girl there hung herself - a second or third suicide attempt I believe - but she was found dead there from hanging herself....I think in the bathroom or her bedroom or something like that. Article describes subsequent inquiry below:

  16. I was an inpatient on more than one occasion in the late 90's and can honestly say my life has been permanently scared by RF. It was just a "fattening farm" that made Dee lots of money, hell she was hardly ever there and made no effort to get to know any of the patients. Two of my friends have since died and many others had to be readmitted to other places. DForcing sick kids to eat fatty foods will make them put on weight but it doesn't cure them, there's a lot more to it than what the scales say.
    I hope that others out there have found the strength to get over this awful illness xx

    1. I seen this is a few years old, really wondering who wrote it, I was tree from 1994 till 95

  17. I understand that d d, left rf years ago, it's now run by care uk who seem to be doing lots of building work (I live near by). I looked up the cqc inspections for rf and it must have changed heaps as it got really positive reviews.

  18. Dee Dawson never proclaimed RF would fix people - she admitted herself she wanted RF to get people to a healthy weight so they could then focus on psychological issues outside of a unit at a healthy weight. People with ED's need to be a healthy weight before they can focus properly on psychological issues. No, RF didnt cure people but it saved them at a point when they were on deaths door which other units do not. No, the methods may not have been ideal but I, for one, would not be here today if I hadn't gone to RF and had the severe regime placed upon me. Dee helped to save many lives, she didnt do it for the money, she did it because she genuinly wanted to help young people get their lives back on track and by doing so sacrifised her own family life so I personally am extremely appreciative of Dee and RF. Dee no longer owns it or has anything to do with it as it is owned by Care UK and they have changed several aspects to the treatment programme.

    1. Hi anonymous - came across this by chance - I agree with the things you said. From the date you gave of being there, it is very likely we were there together, so all the things you describe bring back so many memories. Not all bad either. I was a long-termer, and as I gained weight I started to actually enjoy the company, and some of the things we did & saw !!! I didnt recoer after RF but hey it saved my life and did "something" not sure what but something

    2. Hi I agree with annominas, I have seen so many bad thing. Go on in there and went through a lot myself. Dee had no idea about anything, she was a rude nasty person who would do anything to get goals. I was in there in 1994 and took forced my parents to get me out of there! Her whole family were twisted and everything will not be forgotten! I was NEVER anorexic, in fact I had a phobia of eating in public! I'd like to add that I also work in the care sector and wish to care for children suffering with eating disorders. It was only once I was in RD that I became anorexic! Everything they done was wrong! If I could go back I would make sure everyone new what happened in that hole! I to was a boy that was on gmtv, I too was forced to lie on camera Anne was told what to say, in fact I was physically hurt minutes before I was on air. I would love to hear more about others as I would like to know how many of us were truly hurt in more ways than one! I'm fine with my wait, never had any problem and self councled myself. No person can understand how an ed can affect you unless you have been there yourself. I know things will have changed since the 1990's but someone who has been through it and has beaten everything themselves far exceeds any doctor with no real understanding!

  19. I know that jackie is fine and engaged to be married and simon is fine and has children of his own.

    1. please tell us how you find out about this

  20. I just came back across this and I am glad there are others that agree with me :)
    Unfortunately, I am still not recovered and have just come back from my assessment at another hospital, due to be admitted in a couple of weeks. The psychiatrist specifically asked me about my experience at RF because it has been in the (ED world) press a lot at the moment.
    Simon recently relapsed, but fought to get the inpatient care he so desperately needed, wanted and deserved and is back on the road to recovery and returning to uni :) x

  21. I worked there as a nurse when Dee Dawson ran the place.It was abusive and breached every single good practice code going. She objected to therapy as it was expensive for RF to provide this albeit Health Trusts/PCTs were paying for it. So bad that half the staff and both the supervising Psychiatrists upped and left in one go to work at another clinic. She could get away with this as there was so little regulation and no NHS ED inpt units or clinics in area except Great Ormond St. So the mostly unregulated private sector could call all the shots. Parents were torn but desperate and who can blame them. But the reason for not allowing parents to visit went way beyond carrot and stick approach. It was about preventing children reporting abusive practice. If they did then obviously it was pathological - something everyone will recognise. There are ethical, safe, supportive and compassionate ways of saving someone's life and providing treatment. This was not an example of that

  22. I agree with the comment above. It was terrible. I have never recovered from it. I have friends a good 10 years on still in a sorry state or who have taken their own lives from the way we treated or the way food was presented to us. As much as I want to I can never forget.

    1. Were any of you's there in 1994? I'm trying to find out how an
      Old friend of mine is and I'm afraid really that it may not be good

  23. In my opinion Dee Dawson is one of the most dangerous people on the planet. I do hope she has stopped running this "clinic". She didn't cure anyone...she abused them

  24. I was a patient in the 90s. I'm now a mental health nurse and fully recovered.

    Prior to being admitted to Rhodes Farm I was on a children's ward in a general hospital. I lost more weight in there the staff had no training or understanding (through no fault of their own their model was suited to their patients needs) It wasn't the right place and I nearly died.

    Rhodes Farm at the time had renowned success rates. The clinic got me to a healthy weight after 13 weeks (gaining 1kg a week) I stayed longer because of the relapse risks and to continue psychological intervention. For me the most valuable part for my recovery was the intense psychotherapy. I had a good therapeutic relationship with the therapist and I actively engaged in sessions. It's unfair to say Rhodes Farm was just about re feeding. The relapse prevention plan was good. If a discharged patient went 2kg below their target weight they would be admitted for a weekend to get their weight back up.

    There were no doubt some issues with some of the practices eg ng force feeding with chocolate spread and cream and using feared foods as punishments. Dee used to say "a calorie is a calorie is a calorie" This of course is rubbish. One patient hid food in her underwear and was forced to eat it.

    I remember myself and a few friends squeezing through a window to have a cigarette on the roof. The staff knew that patients did this. The dopey night staff didn't look for us and called the police. The police found us asleep in bed. Prior to this we had waved to a member of staff coming onto shift from our bedroom. To save embarrassment they lied and said we were seen leaving the unit. They told our parents we had tried to run away! My mum always knew when I was lying and believed me but my dad believed the staff.

    We knew we should be punished for smoking but we were put on supervison for a week and made to wear our pyjamas day and night!

    These experiences have helped me in my practice as a nurse. They abused their positions and power. I lost respect and trust for these particular "professionals"

    Another terrible thing was making patients on supervision sleep in the classroom on rolled out thin mattresses with blood stains all over them. They had to change this because cqc ( wasn't cqc then) interviewed patients and I showed them the mattresses. Soon after a dormitory was made with proper beds.

    The clinic wasn't perfect but your never going to fully please patients with eating disorders that you are force feeding. The clinic was very homely and they did some fantastic activities in school holidays on a reward system. I didn't get to go on many because being below "my line" target weight was more important to me then than go karting. There was alot of prepacked food which I'm sure wouldn't happen now. It was all marks and Spencers though! Let's be realistic the nhs food now isn't great!

    To summarise I'd say that Rhodes Farm saved my life. The early intervention and therapy for sure gave me a good head start into adult hood. I'm glad I had the intervention as a child before transitioning I to adult services. I do think that with eating disorders the patient has to take some responsibility. You can have all the interventions in the world. It's only when the patient is ready for help that you can begin the road to recovery.

  25. Dee Dawson has admitted that she ran Rhodes Farm for the money.

    All private ED clinics are businesses, frankly. And very few actually treat EDs properly. They just use coersion to get patients eating and gaining weight, which obviously assists their physical health, but doesn't actually solve the problem, and that's reflected in the fact that the vast majority relapse immediately following release from this treatment.

    The fact is that they don't really know how to assist anorexia sufferers, and that's been true since anorexia was recognised as a mental illness


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