Report highlights failures of Riverside County social services for care of Turpin siblings

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Wednesday, July 13, 2022
Report highlights social services failures in care of Turpin siblings
A report on the treatment of the 13 Turpin siblings who were rescued from an abusive home in Riverside County paints a picture of a broken social services system.

PERRIS, Calif. (KABC) -- The Riverside County Board of Supervisors has voted unanimously to accept recommendations made in a 600-page report on the care provided by county social services agencies to the 13 Turpin siblings after their rescue in 2018.

One of the report's co-authors, retired district court judge Stephen Larson, said that although there were many times in which the Turpin siblings received the care they needed from the county, all too often the social services system "failed" them.

"Over the course of the last four years, the county has provided an extensive suite of services and support systems to address the truly extraordinary circumstances of the Turpin case," said Larson during the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

"However, we also found that the Turpin siblings experienced further harm by a system that was meant to protect them."

The Turpin siblings were rescued after several years of torture and abuse, where their parents David and Louise Turpin starved them and locked some of them up in chains. They later pleaded guilty and were sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

The Larson report took approximately eight months to complete, and included interviews of more than 100 people, including County personnel, social service recipients, family members, and two Turpin siblings. While dozens of pages related to the Turpin siblings were redacted because of a court-imposed order to protect their privacy, Larson offered a general description of some of the problems the siblings faced in the social services system.

The social services system "failed" the 13 Turpin children who were rescued after being starved and horribly abused by their parents at a Southern California home for years, according to a new report.

"Specifically, some of the younger Turpin siblings were placed with caregivers who were later charged with child abuse. Some of the older siblings experienced periods of housing instability and food insecurity as they transitioned to independence."

Larson also said their systems-level analysis revealed other problems. Specifically, he said the Office of the Public Guardian's employees often deal with caseloads more than triple what they should be, likely due to massive staffing shortages.

"I think I've great attorneys at my law firm, but if I had a 40% vacancy rate, people are going to make mistakes," said Larson about the services that are underfunded and stretched far too thin. "Bad things were going to happen in those cases."

Larson also said some of the Turpin siblings had difficulty accessing funds intended for their use. He said while there was no proof that any of the money was improperly spent, it's not entirely clear why a large portion of it hasn't been distributed yet.

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said investigators in his office witnessed many of these problems firsthand as they prosecuted the criminal case against the children's parents.

MORE: Jordan Turpin details making 911 call moments after she escaped Perris 'house of horrors'

In 2018, 17-year-old Jordan Turpin had only been outside a few times in her life. Thinking of her siblings chained back at the house, she dialed 911 on an old cell phone her parents didn't know about.

"They had issues with not having enough food, with some of the essentials in life, they couldn't get things that they needed," said Hestrin. "It's not because someone is trying to keep it from them, it's because there's all this bureaucracy that stacks up."

Larson's report included more than 75 recommendations that will now be taken up by a subcommittee. However, Supervisor Kevin Jeffries mentioned during the board meeting that one of the redacted portions of the report indicated that Larson's team was unable to get vital information from one of the care providers contracted by the county - raising doubts as to how much power they have to enact change.

"If you can't get documents and we can't, what do we do?" Supervisor Jeffries asked.

The results of the probe, which were released on Friday, were presented at the hearing that was attended by members of the public -- several of whom took to the microphone to confront county supervisors.

Residents accused county officials of having a "total lack of leadership" and running a "broken social services system."

"How many more children will be hurt or killed? How many more millions of dollars will Riverside County taxpayers have to pay for investigations, reports and lawsuits?" one member of the community demanded. "Remember, actions speak louder than words."

RELATED: ABC News finds Turpin children still 'living in squalor' 4 years after 'house of horrors' rescue

Escape From A House Of Horror: A Diane Sawyer Special Event (1 of 14)

The probe was commissioned in response to an investigation by ABC News as part of the Diane Sawyer 20/20 special, "Escape From A House of Horror," that aired last November, in which two of the Turpin siblings spoke out for the first time about the hardships they have faced in the years since sheriff's deputies rescued them from a life of home imprisonment and brutal violence at the hands of their parents.

Larson and his team did note a few positive findings. The Turpins received "substantial resources" and "substantial support" from Riverside County, said the report, which found that staffers went "above and beyond their prescribed rules to assist the youth and dependent adults."

Larson also noted that even before investigators finished the probe, they found "the situation was improving."

"We have found that the county's deep commitment to improving its services is also already making a difference," Larson said.

ABC News contributed to this report.