Residents confront officials after probe finds Riverside County 'failed' 13 Turpin siblings
"It's time for you to resign or face a recall," one resident told officials.
Riverside County officials were confronted Tuesday by irate residents after investigators outlined numerous ways that the county failed to provide appropriate care for the 13 Turpin siblings following their 2018 rescue from their parents' California home where they had been subjected to abuse and deprived of food, sleep, hygiene, education, and health care.
An eight-month probe by independent investigators hired by Riverside County found that the 13 siblings were "failed" by the social services system that was supposed to care for them and help transition them into society. The results of the probe, which were released on Friday, were presented at a hearing on Tuesday that was attended by members of the public -- several of whom took to the microphone to confront county supervisors.
"It's time for you to resign or face a recall by citizens," Corona, California, resident Rory Connell told Riverside County Supervisor Karen Spiegel.
Among the findings outlined in the investigators' 630-page report: that "some of the younger Turpin children were placed with caregivers who were later charged with child abuse," and that "some of the older siblings experienced periods of housing instability and food insecurity as they transitioned to independence."
"The Turpin siblings also experienced further harm by a system that was meant to protect them," former U.S. District Judge Stephen G. Larson, whose firm, Larson LLP, carried out the investigation, said as he outlined the findings.
Residents, in response, 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."
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.
However, Larson laid out a litany of challenges facing the county's social services system.
Staff are faced with high caseloads, which Larson said "stand in the way of consistently providing high quality services across the board." Partly as a result, the report said, the county's Children's Services Division has a 40% vacancy rate.
"I could not run my law firm with a 40% vacancy rate. I don't know how any institution could run with that kind of vacancy rate," Larson said. "The high turnover and the vacancy rate results in less experienced, less trained personnel who lack institutional knowledge."
The county also does not have enough "suitable" foster families to support the number of children in need of placement, investigators found.
"Many services and programs are underfunded, and they're simply stretched too thin -- particularly in light of this growing number of children and adults under the county's care and supervision," Larson said.
The report provided a list of 75 recommendations and "hundreds of actionable steps" that investigators believe should be implemented in order to address the county's shortcomings.
"We hope that our report serves as a roadmap for the county to make systemic changes, and to become an exemplar for the high-quality delivery of social services," Larson said.
While stressing the positive work cited by the report, Riverside County officials acknowledged following the presentation that there remains much work to be done.
"Your team has identified some of the stuff that remains, the issues that remain with the vacancy rates, the compensation, the lack of employees," said Supervisor Chuck Washington. "Those are things we can begin to work on, the sort of the meat and potatoes of making things turn around."
Officials also noted that, due to privacy rules, there are still government documents related to the care of the Turpin siblings that neither investigators nor members of the board have been able to access.
"If you can't get documents and we can't, what do we do?" said Supervisor Kevin Jeffries.
In an interview with ABC News, Riverside County Executive Officer Jeff Van Wagenen said that the county currently has three main priorities to address the concerns outlined in the report: recruiting and retaining a high level of talent, improving interdepartmental workflow and communication, and increasing the number of safe and stable foster families who are willing to take in children in need.
"We are focusing on our efforts from top to bottom to make sure that anybody in our care today is getting the care they need," Van Wagenen said.
Spiegel said the county has already begun to make improvements in its care of their most vulnerable residents.
"Can we do better? Absolutely," the supervisor said. "And we are doing better and that's what we need to focus on."
Van Wagenen acknowledged that although many Riverside County staff had been committed to providing adequate care to the Turpin children, there was a "systemic failure" in ensuring all departments were working together to address potential gaps that emerged in the care of the siblings.
The recommendations and solutions included in the report will be used as a roadmap to quickly implement necessary changes to the system, he said.
"I would say we've already made significant improvements, that we will make continued improvements tomorrow, that we will continue to improve the process," Van Wagenen said. "Do I think that we'll ever get to be a perfect process? No. So I can't tell you how long it will take for us to get perfect. But I can tell you, each month that you come back will be better than the month you left."