The Turpin Case: An Extreme Example of White Privilege Within the Child Welfare System
I am just now writing this because I only recently became aware of the Turpin case. For those of you who, like myself, hadn't heard of the Turpins, here is a brief synopsis. The Turpins are a Californian family of 15, two adults, mother Louise and father David, and 13 of their (biological) children, several of whom were over the age of 18 — seven of the children were adults — but were still living at home — the parents home-schooled the children.
Simply put, the parents severely abused and neglected all but the youngest of their children, who ranged in age from 2 to 29 years of age, leaving them malnourished and psychologically and physically stunted. The abuse became known when one of the Turpin’s daughters, who was 17 years at the time, escaped through a window and called the police. One the police arrived, the teen then led them inside the home to rescue her 12 siblings. What the police found inside led to the home being dubbed the “house of horrors,” and rightly so. The story quickly become a national one.
“Evidence of Severe, Pervasive, and Prolonged Abuse”
— Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin
Per several media reports, the Turpin children were deliberately starved by their parents who, according to authorities, regularly deprived their children of water and fed them small portions of food on a strict schedule — the oldest child (29 years of age) weighed a mere 82 pounds and several others appeared to be much younger than their actual ages due to malnutrition. Several of the children were left chained to beds, not allowed to bath except once a year, physically assaulted on a regular basis — punched with closed fist, slapped, choked and hair pulled — by the mother, and several of the children were made to stay in their rooms for up to 20 hours a day — only being allowed to leave the room to eat, use the restroom, and brush their teeth.
“The children were fed jalapeno baloney sandwiches while the parents ate Jersey Mike’s, pizza and fries, he said. The girl said Louise Turpin would buy apple juice but the children weren’t allowed to drink it. “ — Riverside County Deputy Sheriff Daniel Brown
I would like to point out that the Turpins weren't low-income or blue collar by any means, the father was drawing a six figure salary — and thus, could've easily fed and well cared for all of their children had they wanted to. That said, all of the physical abuse and neglect has taken a devastating toll on many of the children — both minors and adults — leaving several of them with severe and permanent health issues and impediments. And as if these instances of abuse weren't abhorrent enough, there are strong indications and/or evidence that the father was sexually abusing at least one of the daughters and did so numerous times — likely he was abusing several and more than a few occasions.
Both parents have plead not guilty to all 37 charges including one count of lewd conduct with a minor for of David Turpin. They are due in court again on February 23rd. Several of the children have since been taken into protective state custody and are in foster care while the adult children live nearby. There has been some talk of the state seeking to terminate the parental rights of the Turpins, however, there seems to be no rush or sense of urgency on behalf of DHS to do so — the (lame) reason being that the parents can “fight” the terminations.
(Huge) Red Flags Missed
Such as is so often the case when white middle class — or upper-middle and/or wealthy — children are being abused, there were plenty of signs that were conveniently “missed” or overlooked by those familiar with the Turpin family — although, I prefer the term willfully ignored. According to People Magazine, a neighbor had previously told the magazine that he had witnessed the Turpin family actually move out of their brick home and into a double-wide trailer parked on the same lot because the squalor in their home had made it “unlivable.”
“They moved out of the brick house because the family had trashed it so bad, it was unlivable. They had left pets in there that starved to death. We found a dead dog and a dead cat in that house. The kitchen just looked horrible. There were dirty diapers piled waist-high.”— Rick Vinyard, Turpin Family Neighbor
People also noted that there were other neighbors who came forward and stated that they saw the children marching on the second floor — not sure what that means but I don’t think its anything good. Per the prosecutor involved in the case, the extended family had no idea what was going on in the Turpin household. Moreover, family members stated that the Turpin parents had started to pull away as they began having more and more children. What makes this case even more tragic, and bazare considering the intentional isolation of the family by the parents, is that one of the Turpin children — the oldest son who was in his late twenties — was allowed to attend college, however his mother escorted him everywhere while he was taking courses — another red flag missed.
How White Privilege Factors Into All of This
I know what some of you are thinking, “What’s white privilege got to do with it?” Well, let me explain. As a black woman, — and mother who unjustly lost seven of my eight children to Ohio DHS because I was poor and black — and parental rights and child welfare reform advocate — and child welfare scholar — who has had extensive experience with the “system,” I can say with a high degree and/or level of certainty that had the Turpin family (both parents and children) been black that such abuse would've been reported by someone years ago — there are plenty of studies that demonstrate the fact that black families are reported to DHS and children removed by DHS at much higher levels than white families with the same circumstances. Moreover, in a case where there is so much and/or overwhelming evidence of criminal abuse — and the abuse so severe so as to prompt prosecutors to charge both parents with dozens of serious criminal offenses — , there wouldn't have been any hesitation, on behalf of DHS, in petitioning the Court to terminate the (black) parents parental rights.
This case reminds me of another recent child abuse case — the Hart family — wherein white adoptive parents were allowed to weasel their way out of real accountability for having maltreated their six children — here, like in the Turpin case, several neighbors witnessed signs of abuse but did nothing. In the end, DHS worker’s failure to act quickly and decisively to protect the children — even with previous findings and the overwhelming evidence of deliberate abuse and neglect — cost all six of the children — who were black — their lives when the parents drove their vehicle off the side of a cliff. White parents, whether they be adoptive or biological, are afforded all the excuses in the world.
White parents are always given the benefit of doubt, even when common sense dictates otherwise. The fact that the Turpin parents were able to get away with these horrible acts for so long, without being reported on by a single concerned family member, relative, or neighbor, is a testament to their whiteness — and white privilege within the child welfare and criminal justice systems and within our society in general — , and not to their being criminal masterminds living under some rock in the middle of nowhere.
#NAFPAorg #WhitePrivilege #ChildWelfare #SocialJustice #AfricanAmericanChildWelfareAct #CasaSoWhite #CPS #FosterCare #ChildAbuse
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Latagia Copeland-Tyronce, MSW, CADAS, is a longtime parental rights and social justice advocate, child welfare reform activist, writer/blogger, and journalist whose work has been featured in BlackMattersUs and Rise Magazine. She is the founder, president, and executive director of the National African American Families First and Preservation Association (NAFPA) a groundbreaking 501c4 nonprofit origination, the first of its kind, devoted exclusively to the protection and preservation of the African American (Black) Family though policy and legislative advocacy.
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