The 13 Southern California siblings rescued three years ago from horribly abusive conditions that included being locked in their home for years, shackled to beds and starved by their parents have been failed at different points by a social services system that was supposed to help them transition to new lives, according to an investigation by ABC News.
The network reported Friday that Riverside County has hired a private law firm to look into allegations the seven adult and six minor children in the Turpin family did not get basic services after they were freed from their parents’ prison-like home. There also is a criminal investigation of a foster family suspected of mistreating several children, including one of the Turpins, ABC reported. A lawyer for that family denied the allegations.
Some of the children reported they “felt betrayed” by local officials’ handling of their cases, said Melissa Donaldson, Riverside County’s director of victim services. Donaldson said there were times when the children did not have a safe place to stay or enough food.
She cried as she described how the children, who had little contact with the outside world while being held like prisoners by their parents, David and Louise Turpin, were at times left on their own to try to work through a complicated bureaucracy.
“When the case first broke, I obviously got thousands of offers of help … dentists and doctors and people saying, ‘I will serve these kids pro bono. Please, send them my way,’” she said. “I had to pass on those referrals to the Child Protective Services workers and the hospital. And none of them were utilized.”
Donaldson said she spoke out “because we have to fix” the system.
The shocking abuse in the Turpin home went unnoticed in the community of Perris, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles, until then-17-year-old Jordan Turpin escaped from the house and called police. Jordan and one of her sisters gave their first media interview for a segment on Friday’s episode of ABC’s “20/20.”
Now 21, Jordan recalled how she could barely press the buttons for 911 after escaping the house. She had never spoken to anybody before on the phone, she said, and was shaking.
Seeing her siblings suffering, she said she felt like she had to do something.
“I had to make sure that if I left we wouldn’t go back, and we would get the help we needed,” she said in a tearful interview. “Because if we went back, there’s no way I would be sitting here right now.”
When she escaped, Jordan told a sheriff’s deputy that her sisters and brothers, who ranged in age from 2 to 29, had been starved, chained to beds and forced to live in squalor. The children slept during the day, were active a few hours at night and had minimal education.
Body-worn camera footage from the deputy who rescued the siblings shows him talking to Jordan, who nervously says she’s never talked to anyone outside the home. When the deputy asked if she was taking any medication, Jordan said she didn’t know what that word meant.
When the 13 siblings were rescued, all but the 2-year-old were severely underweight and hadn’t bathed for months. Investigators concluded the youngest child was the only one not abused by their parents, who have since been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
In the days after their release, the adult and minor children were taken to hospitals for treatment. Donations and support poured in from around the world.
But since that time, the adult siblings have faced challenges accessing social services and even money that was donated for their care. The money was placed in a trust controlled by a court-appointed public guardian.
Joshua Turpin, 29, told ABC News he couldn’t access funds to cover transportation needs and when he asked for help from the county’s deputy public guardian assigned to his case, “she would just tell me, ‘Just go Google it.’”
“I called the public guardian’s office and she refused to let me request for a bike,” he said.
In a statement, Riverside County Executive Officer Jeff Van Waganen said his office has hired a law firm run by former federal Judge Stephen G. Larson to analyze the services provided and the quality of care they received. A report is due by the end of March.
“The County of Riverside is committed to conducting a thorough and transparent review of the services provided to the Turpin siblings and to improve and strengthen the County’s child welfare and dependent adult systems,” the statement said.
Dr. Matthew Chang, who heads the county’s public guardian office, said he welcomed the investigation into the care of the siblings.