After being rescued from a California house of horrors, the children allegedly starved, tortured and shackled by their parents for years will experience “long-term effects” but with time can reclaim their lives, says an expert in child psychology and trauma.
“Obviously they have been through horrendous, horrendous situations, and going forward, we’re not only going to have to allow them to grieve the past, but also deal with the grief of acclimating to the world,” Rebecca Bailey, a psychologist who works with families to overcome trauma, said on Wednesday’s People Now. “It can be a very scary world to come into.”
The extent of the damage — physical, mental and emotional — allegedly inflicted by David and Louise Turpin on their 13 children is not yet fully known. Therefore, says Bailey, it’s difficult to gauge how the kids will rebound, though treatment offers hope.
Authorities have released few details of the hell the Turpin children endured before their Jan. 14 rescue from the family’s suburban home in Perris, California, after a 17-year-old daughter fled through a window and dialed 911.
Three of the couple’s 13 children were found shackled to beds and furniture, while other victims were located in cramped, foul-smelling rooms. Investigation revealed they frequently were left to lie in their own waste, unable to use a toilet while chained, and were allowed to shower only once a year.
The 13 children living in the home ranged from age 2 to 29, but officials have said it appears the 2-year-old escaped the worst of the abuse.
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David, 56, and Louise, 49, were charged with 12 counts of torture, seven counts of abuse of a dependent adult, six counts of child abuse and 12 counts of false imprisonment. David also is charged with one count of a lewd act against a child.
Both have pleaded not guilty to all charges and are being held on $12 million bond each. Their attorneys declined to comment on the case beyond broad reactions to the serious nature of the allegations.
“Fear doesn’t go away overnight,” Bailey says in the current issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday. She is an advisory board member of The JAYC Foundation, which helps people overcome trauma. The organization was founded by Jaycee Dugard, who was kidnapped and held captive for 18 years. The Turpin children have allegedly “missed a lot, and that grief should not be denied.”
‘Kids Often Have a Lot of Resilience’
Battered immune systems — damaged by the children’s inability to act on the fight-or-flight instinct or turn off the adrenaline that it produces when fear is constant — can contribute to physical ailments such as asthma and heart disease, and limited food and stimuli can slow brain development, Dr. Heather Forkey, chief of the Child Protection Program at UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center, tells PEOPLE.
“These kids who are living in these threatening environments, be it domestic violence or physical abuse or severe neglect, parts of their brain that are responsible to help them learn are busy trying to keep them safe,” Forkey says. In addition, “the very person who is supposed to be protecting you from all this is not there for you.”
“Can we reverse this? Yes,” she says. “But the longer it goes, the more seriously injured the brain is.”
She adds: “When we hear cases where kids have been tortured like this, and wouldn’t speak, that is evidence of the defeat response to threat. They’re trying to not get in trouble, not be noticed, not do anything that would draw attention. For those kids, they get symptoms where they sort of end up living their life internally.”
“If this is all you know, you have to spend some time figuring out that this wasn’t OK and it’s OK to talk about this, and beginning to learn some words for emotion.”
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As the children — now hospitalized and receiving attention from doctors, dietitians and counselors — are placed in safe spaces with committed caregivers and learn how to make their own choices and create new memories, “they can deal with the pieces that are most frightening and devastating,” Forkey says.
“Kids often have a lot of resilience,” she says.
Anyone with information about the Turpin family is urged to call the official tipline set up by the D.A. in Riverside, California: (888) 934-KIDS