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Child Abuse, News, Parenting, Uncategorized

The Trebilcock Case: Homeschooling Should Not Enable Abuse

** Warning: This post may have some triggers as it deals with child abuse. 

They refer to him as “the boy.” I wish I knew his name. Names always give a person a little bit more substance, make them a little more real. Like a neighbor next door. Yet, he is, as of now, “the boy.”

The boy who endured severe starvation, neglect, humiliation, and abuse at the hands of his adoptive parents. The boy is 14 years old, yet is “about the size of a seven-year old and will never grow to a normal size as a result of the malnourishment, authorities said,” according to The Daily News. That is just heartbreaking.

His story is beyond shocking.

Jeffrey and Rebecca Trebilcock in court

Here are excerpts from an article about the trial for Jeffrey and Rebecca Trebilcock, which began on Monday, July 16, 2012, with the adopted boy’s testimony, as well as testimony from doctors and authorities:

The boy said his parents taped his mouth shut as a punishment. He was a teenager, but his parents forced him to wear diapers in public because they were afraid he’d wet himself. His brothers and his father once made him wear a helmet and garbage bag and used him for target practice with paintball guns, he said in court Monday.

The boy said he wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom at night, so he resorted to urinating in a cup in his bedroom. He said that if his parents found the cup of urine, they made him drink it.

Worst of all, the boy said, his parents hardly fed him and he resorted to eating dog and goat food.


(Deputy Prosecutor James) Smith said the boy was severely malnourished and near death when he was rushed to a Portland hospital last year, his body perilously cold and his heart beating so slowly one doctor was surprised he was conscious, according to Smith and witnesses who testified Monday.

The boy’s body was covered with sores from eczema, Smith said, and he had four broken ribs.

(Another article by the The Daily News Online reported that “the boy was falling down, couldn’t manipulate his hands and complained of chest pains.” Numerous sources said the boy weighed only 49 lbs at the time, weighing only half of what he should have for his age.)

On Monday, Smith showed a photo of the boy sitting in his hospital bed last year, grinning awkwardly, his face sunken, a bony arm poking out from a hospital gown.

Perched on the boy’s nose were a pair of bent and taped bifocals which, Smith said, the boy was forced to wear even though he didn’t need them and they made his vision worse.

Doctors testified Monday that the boy had wasted away so badly that his condition was consistent with terminal cancer patients. Hospital staff had to give him only small portions of food at first so he wouldn’t go into shock and die from the extra calories, witnesses said.

Also, according to the article,

“Authorities say the 14-year-old boy got the worst of the alleged abuse.

The boy, his cheeks full but his frame strikingly short for his age, poked his head over the walls of the witness stand Monday as he answered questions in crisp, simple sentences.

He testified that he was often cold and damp when he lived with the Trebilcocks. He said that when he wet himself or the bed, the Trebilcocks made him wash his own sheets and clothes in a bucket in the yard, regardless of how cold or wet the weather. He then hung the clothes and sheets up outside, and the Southwest Washington drizzle meant they never really dried, Smith said.

He said he wasn’t allowed to wear shoes very often on the Trebilcock’s roughly 30 acres in West Longview and did chores — feeding and watering goats and other animals — in his bare feet.

The boy said his parents insisted that his bare feet be inspected before he came inside to ensure that he didn’t track dirt into the house. But no one would bother, he said, so he spent hours huddled on the porch, just out of the rain. If he cried about it, he said, his mother or another family member popped out the door and doused him with cold water from a glass.

He said his parents sometimes fed him on the porch. They put food in a plastic potato salad container, which they called his “trough,” then passed it out the door to him. Breakfasts often amounted to dry oatmeal, he said. Sometimes, he said, scraps of breakfast, lunch and dinner were all piled in the plastic container. And on at least one occasion the Trebilcocks gave him moldy bread because they didn’t want it to go to waste.

“They gave it to me in the back in my trough,” he said.

The boy was placed into the Trebilcock’s home as a foster care child in 2002 with normal height and weight. The boy was seen by a pediatrician in 2008, who said that at that time, he had the height and weight of a six year old and that he was “failing to thrive.” I can’t even imagine that.

The The Daily News in that same article reported:

Authorities said Tolby wrote a letter to the couple explaining that the boy’s condition was “perhaps quite life-threatening” and insisting that they get him the proper care. It appears that the Trebilcocks never followed up, investigators said.

According to the sheriff’s office, Tolby went “above and beyond” to make sure the boy was getting further medical attention.

Tragically, “the boy” is not alone. Four other adopted girls faced starvation and cruel treatment as well. All five of the adopted children were not allowed to access food on their own as there was a motion sensor installed in the kitchen. “‘The alarm was right in front of the hallway to go into the kitchen, so if you went past that it would go off,’ the court heard,” reported the Mail Online.

The Trebilcock home

On Tuesday, two of the adopted daughters took the stand to testify against their parents. According to KPTV, one girl spoke about having to get their teeth checked after brushing before being allowed to eat, about how they had to eat outside. She also mentioned how they had to wash their clothes outside in a bucket of cold water. Their punishment for stealing food involved being “hit with a board or slapped in the face.”

If we cried, they poured water on us,” she said.

That corroborates what the 14 year-old boy said, who had also “told investigators that he was spanked so hard once that he could feel blood running down his legs from his buttocks.”

One of the girls who testified on Wednesday said that she would get so hungry that she would eat toothpaste. Another girl said “she’d resorted to eating dandelions and that the Trebilcocks had placed tape over her mouth as a punishment.” There were also reports that they ate dog and goat food to survive.

As you can imagine, there was emotional abuse going on as well. According to one article, the parents “told their younger children not to play with their 13-year-old brother because he was ‘a bad influence, due to his lying and stealing,’ the children told authorities. ‘This put an extreme emotional strain on all of the children.'” Another article gave this insight:

Emily Haukaas, a tutor who visited the Trebilcock home regularly for at least six years to help with the children’s home-schooling, read Wednesday from a written exercise she had done with the boy one day when he was feeling sad and frustrated.

“What can you asked Jesus for?” she had written on the paper.

“Help not to aggravate my family,” the boy wrote.

An article from KPTV also reported that he wrote, “”I hope I do not make daddy mad when he comes home from work” and “He yells at me and makes me do things I don’t want to do.”

The Trebilcock’s have four biological children, all older than the adopted children, who appear to be well-fed. The parents themselves were described as overweight and when the house was investigated, plenty of food was found. In fact, KATU reports that a locked cabinet in the parents’ bedroom was “stocked with food, including soap and candy bars.” No clear motive has been given yet as to why these adopted children were treated this way.

The last case I wrote about that was similar to this was about Hana Williams. These parents do not appear to be of a fundamental Baptist stance, as it is reported that they attended a Seventh-Day Adventist church and that the church’s school is now funding their education. However, they did have a religious reputation as one neighbor referred to them as  “loving Christians.”

The family lived in an isolated fashion, home-schooling all of the children, and, after their arrest, the parents tried to keep them home-schooled. However, “attorneys for the children argued that home-schooling already has delayed the children’s educations.”

Not only that, but one of the adopted daughters also testified about how the parents had one of the biological sons drive the girls to Wyoming in an escape attempt after allegations surfaced about the abuse and starvation. Their state, Washington, is the same state that Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) helped pass Senate Bill 5922 under which “a social service worker will be required to notify the individual under investigation of the allegations against them at the initial time of contact.” That method, while fine for the average family, would enable escapes such as the one attempted. HSLDA also was a key part in closing an investigation of a family that was being investigated for abuse and neglect “without having to subject their children to being interviewed or their home invaded.”

What should our response to these stories be? I admit, stories like these overwhelm me and make me angry. Overwhelmed because I can’t fathom what these children have gone through. Angry because no parent should ever treat their children like that. But staying angry or overwhelmed will accomplish nothing good

Instead, let us turn our emotional response into action.

1. Pray. Ann Voskamp said, “Prayer isn’t a substitute for action – prayer is the source of action.” Pray for these children and children like them who are being mistreated and abused.

2. Know what the signs of child abuse are and report suspicions to the proper authorities if necessary.

3. Be aware of home-schooling regulations where you live. Home-schoolers who are doing right should have nothing to fear or to hide, even if suspicions arise. Parents should be seeking to protect children’s rights, not their own.

4. Become a foster care provider. The children removed from these homes are often put into the foster care system. You can make a difference in child’s life.

5. Consider adoption and give a child a forever home.

Let us be reminded to parent our children the way God parents us. Love on them and give them grace today.

What are your thoughts and reactions? Can you think of any other ways we can make a difference for children like these?



2 thoughts on “The Trebilcock Case: Homeschooling Should Not Enable Abuse

  1. I don’t think there are words to describe how heartbreaking this is. My heart aches for those poor babies. To think that someone was that cruel is truly a tragedy. We will be praying for those children.

    Posted by thehomeschoolmomblog | July 21, 2012, 9:47 pm
  2. Stories like this make me sick with anger. Why anyone would abuse a child is beyond me. I have three sons and they are what most people call, spoiled. I allow them to speak freely yet respectfully. I homeschool the younger two, the eldest is married. My boys know they can come to me about anything yet we expect them to do their chores and school work without much prodding. They very rarely get spanked and only for super severe things. Abuse is intolerable and anyone that abuses children should have the same abuse meted upon them. Eye for an eye, you know.

    Posted by I'm taking a nap | July 22, 2012, 10:20 am

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