Sheriff’s deputies found four malnourished children under the age of 6 — including two who were locked in a dog kennel — in a Wise County home Tuesday morning, officials said.
Authorities arrested their mother and a man identified as the father of one of the children. Jail records identified them as Paige Harkings and Andrew Fabila, both 24.
Each faces four counts of endangering a child, Sheriff Lane Akin said.
Authorities were called at 7:20 a.m. to investigate a family-violence incident at a home off County Road 4930 between Newark and Rhome, about 50 miles northwest of Dallas, Akin said.
Sheriff’s deputies were talking with Harkings and Fabila when the deputies heard children inside a barn on the property.
Four children were found inside the barn: a 4-year-old girl and three boys, ages 5, 3 and 1, Akin said.
The oldest two children were locked in a dog kennel measuring about 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet, he said. The other two were found mostly unclothed on the floor of the barn, covered in urine and feces, Akin said.
Akin said it was the worst child-abuse case he’d seen during his 44 years in law enforcement.
“I’ve not worked one where children are locked inside a dog kennel, and I find that absolutely disgusting,” he said.
Inside the barn, the space was “crudely fashioned” into rooms to create some sort of living quarters, Akin said.
“There was plenty of food inside the barn, but the refrigerator and the cabinets had been locked so the kids could not get in to get food,” the sheriff said.
The children were hungry and thirsty when deputies found them, so authorities gave them food and water before they were taken to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. Akin said he saw no obvious injuries to the children before they were hospitalized.
The children were released from the hospital Tuesday evening and will be placed in foster care, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said.
The spokeswoman said the agency has had contact with the family before, but details of those interactions were confidential.
Harkings also faces an aggravated assault charge, according to jail records. She and Fabila were booked into the jail Tuesday afternoon.
Akin said he believed the family had been in Wise County for about a month. The last time Child Protective Services was called about the family, they were living elsewhere, he said.
“I suspect they’ve been living in squalor in that barn house ever since they’ve been there,” Akin said.
Adverse childhood experiences can have serious emotional and physical tolls later in life, said Kelly Slaven, chief clinical officer at the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente launched a study in 1995 in which 17,000 participants were surveyed about their experiences during childhood. They were asked whether they experienced violence in their home growing up, whether a parent was incarcerated or abused alcohol or drugs, and whether they had been neglected or physically abused, among other questions.
The study found that the more of these experiences someone had during childhood, the higher the risk for alcoholism, drug use, depression, heart disease and other health issues.
DALTON LAFERNEY can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @daltonlaferney.