Turpin children were 'failed' and 'unheard' by social services, investigation finds

·4 min read
David Turpin, second from right, and wife, Louise, left, sit in a courtroom during their sentencing hearing Friday, April 19, 2019, in Riverside, Calif. The California couple who pleaded guilty to years of torture and abuse of 12 of their 13 children have been sentenced to life in prison with possibility of parole after 25 years. (Will Lester/The Orange County Register via AP, Pool)
David Turpin, second from right, and wife, Louise, left, during their sentencing hearing in April 2019. (Will Lester / Orange County Register)

Thirteen children who were rescued from captivity in their parents' home in 2018 after decades of abuse were "frustrated, unheard, stifled" and "failed" by Riverside County's social services system, according to a report issued Friday.

Some of the younger Turpin children — who ranged in age from 2 to 29 at the time — were placed under the care of foster parents who were later charged with child abuse, according to the report issued by outside investigators hired by the county. The older children "experienced periods of housing instability and food insecurity as they transitioned to independence."

Many of the children also struggled with confusing legal proceedings and didn't have immediate access to funds intended for their use, according to the eight-month investigation conducted by Larson LLP, a law firm led by former U.S. District Judge Stephen Larson.

David and Louise Turpin were sentenced to 25 years to life in prison in 2019 for the torture, abuse and imprisonment of their children. When the children were found in their Perris home, they were severely malnourished, and some showed signs of cognitive impairment and nerve damage.

The children were beaten, starved and at times chained to their beds, prosecutors said.

The siblings’ “lives have been permanently altered in their ability to learn, grow and thrive,” Riverside County Superior Court Judge Bernard J. Schwartz said before sentencing the Turpins.

Friday's report acknowledged that "with respect to the Turpin siblings ... there were many times over the last four years that they received the care they needed from the county," but ultimately "this was not always the case, however, and all too often the social services system failed them."

Riverside County retained Larson LLP in October 2021 to assess its care of the Turpin children and to conduct an overview of the county system. The firm assembled a team of professors and researchers from UC Berkeley, UCLA and Virginia Tech to conduct an extensive review of more than 30,000 pages of county documents. They also interviewed and surveyed hundreds of personnel, stakeholders, family members and staff members, among others.

The report also recommended policy changes to help reform the county's social services system, including increasing staffing and compensation for the Children’s Services Division and the Office of the Public Guardian to ensure parity with surrounding counties. It called for setting caseload limits for field workers and for launching a countywide effort to expand the availability of high-quality and safe foster care placements for children with special needs.

The report also noted that the county is working on a state Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Rosilicie

Ochoa Bogh (R-Yucaipa) that would allow information sharing across departments providing holistic care.

A Riverside County Board of Supervisors ad hoc committee will oversee the implementation of the report’s recommendations, officials said.

“As public servants, our duty is to ensure that our most vulnerable communities are receiving the care and protection they deserve,” Supervisor Karen Spiegel, committee co-chair, said in a statement. “I am dedicated to making sure we have the tools, resources and staffing to provide that care. This is the time to act and I will support all efforts to meet the challenge.”

The children's plight first came to light in 2018 when Jordan Turpin, who was 17 at the time, escaped her parents' home in Perris and called 911 to report the abuse that she and her siblings had endured. The siblings were then rescued by police from their home.

Authorities discovered that the children had been subjected to torture and abuse by their parents, who would deprive them of food, sleep, hygiene and healthcare.

Seven of the adult children were put under the conservatorship of the Office of Public Guardian in Riverside County. According to the report, five of them ended their conservatorship in 2019, and the Office of Public Guardian remains the conservator for the last two.

"The heartbreaking Turpin cases presented a unique challenge for OPG. The Turpin siblings had experienced severe and long-term abuse and neglect by their parents. Their public profile was high, and their need for privacy was great," according to the report.

While much of the report was redacted for privacy concerns, it listed several areas of concern during the Turpin conservatorship, including heated conflicts between the appointed counsel for the children, which caused the siblings stress, as well as a lack of communication that led to improper handling of their funds.

The report did note, however, that all of the $400,000 in the special needs trusts for the Turpin children was accounted for and that there was no sign of misappropriation or theft.

In addition to the Turpin case, the investigation also found problems within the social services system in Riverside County, including overworked staff, high caseloads, underfunded programs and poor coordination across departments.

"In short, while there are many examples of dedicated Riverside County personnel succeeding despite the systemic obstacles in their way, there are too many other examples of falling short or even failing outright," the report found.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.