Review – Exposure: Who Cares? Children’s Homes Undercover

While not explicitly to do with autism or even disability, this programme caught my attention because young people with disabilities are over-represented in the care system and the system often does not meet the sometimes complex needs of some of these young people. So I figured it was probably worth a watch.

Essentially, the documentary follows two under-cover journalists who get jobs as support workers for two of the biggest care groups in the UK; Keys Group and Cambian Group. During their time employed, they record and document the goings on they see and then report back.

Theo gets a job working in a Cambian residential home where he will be working with vulnerable children. He has no experience at all in the field and received eight days of training from Cambian before starting. I have to admit, I don’t know what is standard or what is good practice for training amount as I’ve not worked in care. I know before I worked in a provision attached to a mainstream school with children with autism and various additional needs I received no training at all – so eight days seems a reasonable amount of upfront training providing support on the job is also provided.

Which of course it’s not, Theo’s thrown into working with a teenage girl on his own – including two hours of driving her to and from places unsupervised – and he struggles to know how much he should be doing and when.

I wasn’t sure when to intervene, how much to push her along.


When he raises his concerns with his manager, his manager informs him that being thrown in at the deep end was intentional and that Theo was deliberately “dropped in it” to “work it out” for himself because the manager’s wouldn’t be there to help him all the day. By this point, I had a good idea how the rest of the documentary was going to go. Theo also spends time at one of the Cambian schools where he is assigned to work with a child who he doesn’t know at all (they’re from a completely different placement), who runs away from him and Theo is left on his own with the young man with no way of summoning help.

I was told it was normal for children to go on the roof, that the previous day a child was on the roof and other children were distracted.


Many of the staff feel that the school is unsuitable for the young people who attend it – many of whom have special educational needs and disabilities – and the majority of the work and care of the young people is left to the non-teaching staff. This is quite reminiscent of mainstream schools where the students with the most complex special educational needs and disabilities are often predominantly the responsibility of teaching assistants. Theo records instances of staff shouting at and belittling young people and other staff bewildered as to how the place can even be called a school – yet it has a Good Ofsted rating.

It’s awful, I don’t now why they even call it a school.

Anonymous Staff Member

The belittling gets worse on a trip to the beach where a thirteen year old boy is cajoled into eating from the under-12s menu despite his protests and then provoked by a staff member who brings up previous events as “evidence” of him ruining days out. It is no surprise then that the boy becomes distressed and the staff make the decision to physically restrain him in public.

What makes it worse is that after each demonstration of poor practice or downright emotionally abusive behaviour, there are statements from Cambian, Keys or Ofsted justifying what is witnessed or why certain ratings have been given. It’s embarassing and comes across as fumbling for half-hearted excuses that don’t even make much sense sometimes.

Dan, the other undercover journalist is at Keys Group. He gets a job working at a Keys placement where young people are placed during times of crisis. This generally means that young people are not there indefinitely or even for prolonged periods of time. The entire layout of the placement is unusual – there is a central building with loads of bunk-houses within driving distance. It appears that most young people are placed in these buildings either by themselves or with one other young person and the majority of their time seems to be spent driving between buildings and activities. This is explained by way of the fact that the focus of the placement is on outdoor activities and life skills.

The documentary shows a lot of confusion in the policy about where and when young people are going to activities or moving from the bunkhouse to the centre. One young person is understandably annoyed when she is moved from the bunkhouse to somewhere else, only to be sent back to the same bunkhouse. The young people are generally kept separate from other young people so as to “avoid negative patterns of behaviour”. There is also more confusing policy when the centre provides the money and transport for a young person to go and buy cigarettes, up to and including pretending not to know the young person in the shop in case the young person is questioned by the shop keeper. Now there may be an argument around picking which battles to fight with some young people but the justification provided to Dan is that to not allow the young, underaged, person to buy cigarettes would be a deprivation of liberty. I guess someone should go tell sellers of all those age restricted items that they’re depriving underage people of their liberty then…

When we return to Theo, things haven’t improved as he is sent to another house to cover a shortage of staff with young people he’s never meet – a situation aptly described by another staff member as a “fucking bomb site”. The staff members at this placement discuss how Cambian employ certain measures such as “mothballing” a placement and pre-emptively closing it down for maintainence and work if they know it’s going to fail, and about how placements are often at or over capacity despite staff struggling to cope. We also witness how incidents involving restraint are carefully noted down so as not to show up as red flags in paperwork. This, combined with the fact that local authorities pay £5000 a week or more for the young people to be placed in these settings because they claim to offer exactly what these young people need, leaves you feeling utterly despondent about the state of care at the moment.

The losers in this situation are the children. A chunk of their childhood is spent contained.

Tanya Byron

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