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Mom forced toddler children inside makeshift cages; kids found in dirty diapers, covered in lice and insect bites

A Virginia woman has pleaded guilty to child neglect are authorities discovered she was keeping toddlers locked in makeshift cages, while failing to provide adequate care or hygiene for her five children.

According to USA Today, Malista Ness-Hopkins of Accomack County submitted a guilty plea to five counts of child neglect following her July 2017 arrest. According to testimony at a hearing in September of that year, authorities found the five children living in unsafe conditions, wearing dirty diapers and covered in lice and bug bites.

And Ness-Hopkins appears to have made cages out of two toddler cribs: She reportedly screwed a lid onto the crib made out of side rails from other cribs, essentially turning the cribs into a cage, from which the toddlers could not get out.

Social worker Kate Bonniwell reportedly said in court that the children in the home were  “filthy, with multiple bug bites.” She also said that the house was littered with broken glass and rotting food.

Ness-Hopkins’s defense attorney Tucker Watson reportedly said that his client had been suffering from mental health issues and was overwhelmed by caring for the children. Her boyfriend had died in May 2017, when her youngest child was only four months old.

Watson said that Ness-Hopkins put the lids on the crib as a safety measure, not as a punishment, and that she didn’t have the money for more appropriate safety devices. He said the she takes responsibility for her actions.

“She is heartbroken for many reasons,” the attorney said.

At this time, four of the children have been placed in foster care while one is in the custody of its grandmother.