Tragedy of Turpin case calls us to report signs of abuse


By Sister Cathy White, S.P.

 The sad and disturbing story of the Turpin children—severely neglected and abused for years before being discovered in their Perris home in January—has been a moment of reckoning for many, especially those in the ministries related to child protection. This international story occurred right here in our Diocese.

 One brave child left the home and made a report of the abuse that was happening to her and her 12 siblings. The news broke, and the children were removed from the home. News media interviewed several of the neighbors who lived in the community and others who had encountered the family over the years on their journey from Texas to Southern California. Most said in their own words that they thought something wasn’t quite right, even perhaps that the children were not being properly cared for. 

 Yet no one shared their fears and concerns with those who might have stopped the abuse. By their own admission, some of these neighbors and former classmates are now dealing with feelings of guilt over this.

 In the Diocesan Ministry of Child and Youth Protection this issue is addressed through Mandated Reporter Training. Who is a mandated reporter? At this point, the better question is who is not a mandated reporter.

 With what we now know about the pervasiveness of child abuse, we, as a community and as a society, must understand our moral responsibility to communicate any suspicious behavior that may indicate child abuse. This means contacting Child Protective Services or law enforcement directly with any suspicions we have that might lead to the knowledge of child abuse. The phone number for Child Protective Services in Riverside County is 800-442-4918; in San Bernardino County the number is 800-827-8724.

 Remember the saying, “If you see something, say something.” 

 Many people in our Diocese have completed Virtus training. The second part of the training delineates warning signs to help identify perpetrators, behavior signs to help identify minors with problems and ways to communicate concerns. As the Diocese has continued to strengthen its ministry of child protection, some may have viewed our mandatory trainings and background screenings as cumbersome or intrusive. Let us take this horrifying revelation of the Turpin children as a reminder that our calling to be reporters of suspected abuse is of the highest importance. 

 As people of faith, we also know that our attention to these matters does not end with the reporting of abuse, we are also called to prayer, support and healing for victims. As we gather for Mass, in prayer or faith sharing groups, or in catechetical settings, let us offer our prayers for the healing of the Turpin children and for all victims of abuse. Let us also learn more about the retreats and programs offered by the Diocesan offices of Child and Youth Protection, and Restorative Justice, as well as other community resources that offer spiritual and clinical support to victims of abuse. The more we know and support these ministries, the more people they will help.

 The offices of Child and Youth Protection and Restorative Justice, in collaboration with St. James Parish, are planning a prayer service Friday, March 23rd at 4:00 PM. at 160 Muir Woods Road in Perris, near the site of the Turpin home.

 Sister Cathy White is the Director of the Diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection.