A lack of funds and oversight and “extremely high and complex caseloads” hinder care for vulnerable adults at a Riverside County agency, a new report concludes.
The critique of the Public Guardian office, which looks after adults unable to care for themselves, is part of a report by retired judge Stephen Larson’s law firm on the county’s care of the 13 Turpin siblings found abused, imprisoned and neglected in a Perris home.
Asked Monday, July 11, to comment on the report’s findings about the Public Guardian, county spokesperson Brooke Federico referred to a county statement issued Friday, July 8, when the report was publicly released.
While the statement doesn’t specifically address the guardian office, it quotes Supervisor Karen Spiegel as saying that, “as public servants, our duty is to ensure that our most vulnerable communities are receiving the care and protection they deserve” and that she will “support all efforts to meet the challenge.”
The new county budget, approved in June, increases Public Guardian staffing by 33% to reduce caseloads, Federico added.
Larson LLP is expected to present its 634-page report at the Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday, July 12, meeting.
The Public Guardian oversees the day-to-day affairs and makes key decisions for about 1,200 to 1,300 adults, according to the report.
The office’s staff “carry exceedingly high caseloads, ranging from 98 (to) 113 cases per person — about 3.5 times the recommended standard of 30 cases per person,” the report read. A 2014 grand jury report also revealed high caseloads among public guardian caseworkers.
Employees visit clients once every 90 days, the report states. That meets minimum legal standards, but “is an insufficient frequency to build trust and rapport,” the report added.
The office also is underfunded, with county funding staying flat for five years with no additional money from the state or federal governments despite a growing county population, the report found.
Larson’s firm also criticized what it sees as the county’s failure to provide oversight of the Public Guardian.
“(The office) lacks important mechanisms for public oversight and redress, such as conservatorship-specific clients rights policies and procedures, an advisory board, a publicly available annual report, and independent performance reviews,” the report read.
The Public Guardian’s shortcomings “put clients at risk of having their needs go unmet and their rights unprotected,” according to the report, which added that no transitional help is given to clients whose rights are restored by the court.
To address shortfalls, the county needs to bolster the public guardian’s funding, add staff to lower caseloads and “improve collaboration with other agencies” as part of an effort to change the way it serves those in need and “implement a systemic means of external review, public information, and outreach,” the report states.
In January 2018, sheriff’s deputies found the Turpin siblings chained to their beds, abused, malnourished and neglected to the point that their physical and mental development was stunted.
Deputies came after then-17-year-old Jordan snuck out of the home and called 911. Parents David and Louise Turpin pleaded guilty to 14 felony counts and are serving sentences of 25 years to life in state prison.
After the children — Jennifer, Jordan, Joshua, Jonathan, Julissa, Joy, Jessica, Julianne, Jeanetta, Joanna, Jolinda, James and Janna — were freed, the younger siblings were placed in foster care while the public guardian’s office looked after the adult siblings.
The Board of Supervisors announced Larson’s hiring the day an ABC News “20/20” report about the Turpins aired in November.
In the interview, two of the adult children said they struggled to find money for food, were forced to live in bad neighborhoods and were cast into society with few life skills or regard for their well-being, an assertion backed by Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin, whose office prosecuted the Turpin parents.
Despite an outpouring of community support that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the children, Joshua Turpin said the public guardian denied his request for money to buy a bicycle.
ABC News also scrutinized the actions of Vanessa Espinoza, the deputy public guardian assigned to the adult Turpin siblings. Recently unsealed conservatorship documents show that Espinoza rejected the apartments the Turpins wanted to rent as either too expensive or too far away, and steered them toward housing the Turpins considered substandard.
In May, Jennifer Turpin, the eldest Turpin child at 33, went on social media to defend Espinoza.
“Most of the stuff that happened wasn’t even her fault,” Jennifer Turpin said. “Any of the bad stuff that I could go on and on and on about, it was because of her bosses.”
The exact details of the Public Guardian’s care of the Turpins are redacted in the report’s public version to comply with a court order.
Tuesday’s presentation by the Larson firm will be the first opportunity for the five supervisors to comment in a public setting on the findings.
Members of the public can also address the board or comment on the report. But it’s unclear whether other county officials, including Hestrin — who told ABC News the Turpins “(had) been victimized again by the system” — will weigh in.
Staff writer Brian Rokos contributed to this report.
IF YOU GO
Riverside County supervisors will hear a presentation from retired judge Stephen Larson, whose law firm investigated the county’s care of the Turpin children and problems within child and adult protective services.
When: 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 12
Where: First-floor board chambers, County Administrative Center, 4080 Lemon St., Riverside.
Details: The public can watch and comment on the proceedings.