By Representative Tomas Uresti
When deputies arrived to search the home of David and Louise Turpin in California, they encountered a scene reminiscent of a concentration camp. The Turpins’ 13 children, ranging from 2 to 29, were malnourished and shackled throughout the house, having been tortured for years by their parents. The 29-year-old weighed only 82 lbs. Many of the children were on the brink of death, and they will require years of therapy and rehabilitation to fit into society.
The parents had moved to California from Texas 17 years ago, and it’s unclear how they escaped the notice of authorities for so long. They homeschooled their children and behaved reclusively, though there were situations where neighbors did notice that something was amiss. In Texas, one of the children escaped only to be returned to their parents by a neighbor. In other situations, the Turpins were behaving bizarrely yet neighbors did not call CPS.
This case should remind us of one the critical functions of the state: taking care of highly vulnerable children. Too many kids are growing up in environment where severe abuse or neglect, mental illness, drugs, and homelessness are everyday realities. When CPS is alerted to such a situation, they are able to respond and attempt to correct the environment before the child is irreparably harmed. In the worst situations, the child will be removed to a family placement or foster care.
The system isn’t perfect. Reports last year that some children were sleeping in CPS offices were particularly shocking – and overall our CPS caseworkers are overworked and underpaid. These problems led Judge Janis Jack to rule Texas’ CPS and foster care systems unconstitutional. Last legislative session Texas took some steps in the right direction to address the ruling, reforming CPS and increasing pay to CPS caseworkers.
There’s still work to be done. Last month, Judge Jack ruled again that Texas wasn’t doing enough to protect vulnerable kids. The Judge is right. Texas should continue to find ways to reform our child welfare system. Every kid should have the right to a normal childhood, and no instance of severe abuse, like that in the home of the Turpins, should go unnoticed by the state.
What can you do personally to help Texas’ most vulnerable kids? Foremost, you should alert the authorities if you see warning signs of abuse or neglect. A child with unexplained injuries, untreated illness, frequent unexplained absences from school, or other bizarre behaviors may be a victim of an abusive home environment. Additionally, if you’re able and willing to take on the responsibility, know that there are many kids in need of a foster home or even adoption. When you open your home to a child, you open your heart to a child. More than anything, that’s how you can prevent child abuse.