As the oldest children of alleged child-torturers David and Louise Turpin move on, they are "gathering strength from each other," an expert says

By Jeff Truesdell
April 24, 2018 05:32 PM
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As the seven adult children of accused abusers David and Louise Turpin begin moving more freely into the world three months after their rescue from alleged imprisonment, the siblings’ recent relocation to a new home together is a “wonderful” step in their ongoing recovery, says an expert in child psychology and trauma.

“The fact that they’re living together is a great sign,” psychologist Rebecca Bailey tells PEOPLE.

“From everything we’re hearing, the support system around them is doing everything they should,” says Bailey, who is not involved in treating the California siblings. “They’re providing a protected space where the individuals can get their feet on the ground, acclimate to the greater world and begin to discover who they want to be and what opportunities are available to them.”

Bailey was responding to comments from attorney Jack Osborn, who represents the adult children and recently told ABC News that they moved last month from a medical center to a new home.

Osborn said the house, in an undisclosed part of California, gave each sibling their own room and more freedom to make decisions for themselves.

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The Turpin family
David-Louis Turpin/Facebook
The Turpins’ home in Perris, California
Sandy Huffaker/Getty

“They have a social connectedness with each other that is likely to be very supportive,” another child trauma expert, Dr. Heather Forkey, chief of the child protection program at UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center, tells PEOPLE.

That attachment “gives them tools they can use to help them deal with whatever symptoms they may be having,” she says. “My guess is that they are gathering strength from each other. In looking after each other, they actually are gaining skills that will help each one of them individually.”

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The status of the six minor Turpin children is less clear. Authorities said in January that they were being treated at a different facility from their older siblings, though the two groups reportedly have kept in touch via Skype.

The 13 Turpin children ranged from ages 2 to 29 when they were recovered Jan. 14 from the family’s suburban home in Perris, California, after one of them, a 17-year-old girl, fled through a window and dialed 911.

Three of the 13 children were discovered shackled to beds and furniture, while others were located in cramped, foul-smelling rooms, prosecutors have said. Investigation revealed the children 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 while being denied food, even as the parents ate well themselves

Authorities said it appeared the youngest child was spared the worst of the abuse.

From left: David and Louise Turpin
Riverside County Sheriff's Department (2)

David, 56, and Louise, 49, face numerous criminal charges in the alleged mistreatment of their children, including abuse, torture and false imprisonment.

Child trauma experts previously told PEOPLE the unknown potential effects on the children — physical, mental and emotional — would take time to diagnose.

“The easiest pieces to have figured out by now are the physical ones, the nutritional ones, the health consequences,” says Dr. Forkey. “Those can be addressed fairly straightforwardly. By this time, those injuries and nutritional issues will be well on their way to improving.”

“It’s the psychological consequences that will take some time to come out,” she explains. “These kids have presumably had impact on a lot of levels of their psyche. But they also presumably have a number of resilient skills.”

“The nice thing about resiliency is everybody’s got it, and you can grow more,” she says.

Although locals who have been following the case have taken to affectionately calling the Turpin children “The Magnificent 13,” the siblings themselves remain unaware of how much media attention their case has generated, their attorney said.

Osborn said that his clients are receiving occupational, physical and psychological therapy and catching up on the movies they’ve missed over the years. He said they love the Star Wars films.

“They are all bright and articulate and incredibly eager to study,” Caleb Mason, another attorney for the seven siblings, told PEOPLE in late March. “The thing they want more than anything else is an education.”

“The adult siblings want to be known as survivors, not victims,” Osborn told ABC News.

The Turpin family
Courtesy Billy Lambert

Says Bailey: “It’s very important that we listen to the words that people want to use to describe themselves.”

Bailey is an advisory board member of The JAYC Foundation, which helps people overcome trauma and was founded by Jaycee Dugard, who was kidnapped and held captive for 18 years.

“I also know that there are folks that need to understand that they have been victimized by people that should have cared for them,” Bailey says.

“We all know that there is no catching up on all the years that they missed, and yet there is the opportunity to use that and move forward,” she says. “There’s no mistaking that there will be some grief over the years that were lost.”

Bailey calls this year “all about stabilization” for the adult siblings. She notes that while they will be crucial sources of solace for one another, there are likely more changes ahead as they recover.

“The fact that they are allowed to be together is so important. And they may find the challenge going forward is how to separate from each other,” she says, and “acknowledge that each have different desires. Each person will have their own path.”

Of the future, Bailey says: “This is just the beginning.”