DECATUR, Texas - A judge decided the four children found malnourished and living in filth in a Wise County home should remain in foster care for now.
The children’s mother, Paige Harkings, and her common-law husband, Andrew Fabila, were both in court Wednesday. They are each charged with four counts of felony child endangerment.
Earlier this month, deputies went to their home for a domestic disturbance call. They found two children locked in a dog kennel, one wrapped in a blanket near a heating pad and the other in a playpen.
All of the children – ages 5, 4, 3, and 1 — were turned over to Child Protective Services and were placed in foster care after being removed from the home.
Andrew Harris, who is the father of the three oldest children, said he had no idea his children were living in horrid conditions until they were discovered earlier this month.
"It was painful. Nobody deserves to be locked in a little cage like that, nonetheless a child," Harris said. "Why? Just why? It’s just messed up…honestly it’s hard to talk about and not tear up. It’s really sad."
Harris also said he hasn’t seen his three kids since October because their mother, Harkings, wouldn’t let him. He said he tried to bring them Christmas presents in December, but he wasn’t allowed in. He hadn't seen the most recent place where the children were living, but described one of the previous homes as a wreck.
"There wasn’t drywall or sheetrock in a lot of places. Rotted out everywhere. It was bad. It needed somebody to help them out," Harris added.
The property where the children were discovered on Feb. 12 is not even a house at all, but more like a workshop. The sheriff described conditions inside as filthy, with dirty clothes, mattresses, blankets, feces and urine everywhere.
The sheriff said the two oldest children were locked in a dog kennel and all the food in the home was locked away so the kids couldn’t get to it.
According to police documents, the home had only one toilet, which wasn’t working. The kids who were in diapers hadn’t been changed “in a lengthy amount of time.”
Fabila, who is the father of the youngest child, is out on bond, but he didn’t speak as he left the courthouse.
Harkings is still in jail. She was taken to the hearing in a jail uniform and shackles.
CPS workers told the court there were no family members suitable for caring for the children. The agency declined to give custody to one of their grandmothers because she was reportedly aware of their living conditions and did nothing about it.
Harris was not awarded custody because he is on probation until 2023 for possession of a controlled substance.
Investigators also believe the 5-year-old may have autism, and some of the others are non-verbal.
“They have some issues we need to look into further,” Marissa Gonzalez said. “Not very big vocabularies. We’re concerned about developmental delays, and so we’re certainly going to look into those and try to get diagnosees or figure out what kind of therapies they might need.”
For now, CPS officials say all three parents involved will need to work with their investigators to come up with service plans they need to complete before any of them can possibly regain custody.
“I’m skeptical. I don’t think that’s a good route to take with these parents,” said Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin.
Until recently, Fabila was allowed visitation with the children. But he is no longer allowed access because of his bond conditions.
For now, two of the kids will remain in one foster home and two in another.
The next custody hearing, in this case, is scheduled for March 27.