Couple probed in 3 US states face neglect case

2016-09-17 21:52


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Lubbock - Neighbours said filthy children regularly climbed into trash bins and scavenged for food behind the West Texas house in the US where 11 children lived with their parents. Other residents heard screaming at night - one described "shrieks of terror", which were quickly followed by loud music to cover the sounds.

"It never stopped while they were living there," neighbour Paige Figge told a judge after the children were taken into state custody.

The testimony came during a court hearing for William and Claire Rembis, who have faced child welfare investigations in at least three states since 2001. The couple is now accused of neglect in Lubbock, where one investigator suggested the family may be moving to avoid such investigations, which are difficult to track across states.

Rental home

The couple denies the allegations, saying they move for jobs and that Texas officials are targeting them because they choose to homeschool their family, oppose vaccinations and simply have so many children.

"They don't eat out of the trash," said 36-year-old Claire Rembis outside the courtroom in Lubbock. Her 48-year-old husband called the allegations "ridiculous."

The couple hasn't been criminally charged, but they face a host of problems in Texas: Their children, who range in age from 16 months to 17 years old, were taken into state custody in late August, after child welfare workers discovered 10 of them had been taken to Colorado amid the Lubbock investigation.

The family was evicted from their rental home on Tuesday and the parents' custody hearing continues next week.

Two of the children also were briefly removed from the family's home in Plano, about 483km east in 2013 and all were removed in a separate case there last year. In Michigan, child welfare officials received five complaints between 2007 and 2012, including one about unsupervised children eating out of garbage cans. In New Jersey, the couple was investigated after their oldest son, who was about two at the time, was found wandering alone in 2001, according testimony in the Lubbock case.

School material

No national database exists to track such cases across states. The Rembises disclosed their past addresses to Texas officials, but if families don't divulge that information, case workers have to find it, said Texas department of family and protective services spokesperson Paul Zimmerman. Even then, a lot of digging must be done.

State agencies often can't release details in such cases, especially if no action was taken. In New Jersey, where most family court records are confidential, state law bars the department of children and families from even confirming whether the agency was involved with the Rembis family, spokesperson Ernest Landante said. Michigan department of health and human services spokesperson Bob Wheaton said records in such cases were also closed in Michigan.

Those cases were briefly cited during last week's custody hearing, where child welfare investigator Kristin Stecklein said some of the children didn't have beds when she visited the home earlier this year, including a 5-year-old girl who another child told her slept in a box in a closet. The couple homeschooled their children, but Stecklein said she didn't "see any signs" of school material - a point William Rembis disputed on Friday.

Texas Tech University students who lived next door to the family testified that children were in the alley scavenging in trash bins six days a week. One student, Madison Burnham, said she saw a child eating food from a box she'd recently thrown out.

"I don't think children should be allowed to do that," Burnham told the judge.

Stecklein said the family's home had a "strong foul odour" and not enough food to feed 11 children and two adults when she visited. William Rembis also disputed that allegation in testimony, noting his family received about $1 100 a month in food stamps.

"We've never had a problem with having enough food," he told the judge. "My kids are well fed."

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