A psychologist testified Friday reuniting 10 children with their Buford parents would be high risk even though the couple had no history of violence because they believed locking up a child for months was a proper way to rehabilitate him.
“I think reunification would be very high risk and problematic without any acknowledgment of wrong-doing,” said Priscilla Faulkner, a psychologist who evaluates children for the state Division of Family and Children Services.
DFACS is seeking to terminate the parental rights of former Georgia Tech football standout Recardo Wimbush and his wife Therian, who have been in jail since last June after being arrested on child abuse charges. They were arrested after police learned their eldest child had been imprisoned in the basement of their home for stealing and lying and other offenses.
Faulkner said she assessed both Wimbushes at significant risk for future child abuse or neglect because they had not sought therapy for the eldest child for his offenses and because of the child’s basement exile. Her testing showed Therian might even become violent or overly aggressive even though the behavior had not been exhibited in the past.
But, on cross examination, Faulkner was forced to admit she violated psychological protocols in giving the written tests. She admitted she failed to monitor the test taking, which could invalidate the results.
Faulkner’s testimony in Gwinnett Juvenile Court painted a complex picture of the Wimbushes. They contend they’re being persecuted for raising their children in line with their own religious beliefs and used a strict hand to correct bad behavior of their eldest son and because they protected their children from societal influences by maintaining a close-knit clan.
The couple married while Recardo Wimbush, 33, was a growing athletic star at Georgia Tech, and Therian Wimbush, 37, was pursuing an advanced engineering degree and tutoring athletes. Recardo became a supervisor at railroad company while Therian focused on home-schooling her growing family of children - ages 2 to 14 — and professional tutoring.
Faulkner said she thought Recardo deferred to Therian Wimbush in family leadership. Faulkner testified that Therian possibly exhibited delusional behavior. She believes that immunizations could cause medical problems and exiling her eldest child to the basement for an extended time — so far how long, weeks or months, has been unclear — could change her child’s bad behavior.
Still, the psychologist said testing of the children showed the quality of Wimbush’s homeschooling was “impressive.” Reports by other therapists who interviewed the children showed no underlying mental or emotional problems, she said.
“They appear to be intelligent and sociable and generally well adjusted,” she said.
Faulkner also testified separating the children — who came from a tight-knit clan — in foster care as DFACS found necessary could undermine the children’s emotional and intellectual development. Keeping children — especially the younger ones — separated from their parents could undercut their bond and impede development, she said.
“I would think that more than a few hours of complete separation from siblings could be harmful,” she said.
Two judges have denied bond to the Wimbushes after prosecutors argued that they might influence the testimony in a future criminal trial.Meanwhile DFACS has not allowed the children in foster care to visit their parents in jail. Angel Jackson, a state social worker, testified Thursday that the jail was not an appropriate place for the children.
Jackson also testified the children had hygiene issues when taken into foster care — particularly in that their braided hair had gone unwashed for months. The oldest son, however, had his collarbone broken while living at DFACS group home and the eldest daughter became so distraught at being separated from her parents and siblings that she was placed in a residential clinic because of suicide concerns. The oldest son has since been placed with an uncle.
Authorities — social workers, judges and prosecutors — have voiced heightened concern from the start in part because they viewed the Wimbushes as high functioning adults who should have known better than to treat their son in such a manner.
A prosecutor said they exhibited “bizarre” behavior and had an “abnormal world view of parenting.” And a magistrate opined the kids suffered from “Stockholm syndrome,” in which captives bond with captors.
Faulkner testified Therian Wimbush told her she looked to Old Testament scriptures for guidance, used compassion and steadfastness in teaching children right and wrong, and always talked with a child after a spanking.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.