PROVO — A mother of four was arrested and booked into the Utah County Jail after two of her children were found in a Dumpster.
Stephania Chavez, 21, was arrested for investigation of two counts of child abuse neglect.
Provo Police Sgt. Brandon Post said a woman was taking out her trash Tuesday at the Boulders Apartment complex, 750 S. 650 West, when she found a 3-year-old girl inside the Dumpster who was in the process of helping her 2-year-old brother get inside as well.
The girl had apparently climbed inside the Dumpster herself, Post said. She told officers that she was "looking for food," though Post said investigators did not find any signs of malnourishment.
The tenant who found the children, Nacole Eaton, called police.
"I seen the little girl on top of the garbage, the little boy was in diaper and shirt trying to get in," she said.
The Dumpster was full, Eaton said, and it was trash collection day.
The girl also did not have socks or shoes. Eaton said the girl, in addition to looking for food, told her that their mother was sleeping and they had been locked out of the apartment by the mother's boyfriend.
"It scared me. I would never imagine any kids being left out here with their mom dead asleep," she said.
Officers tried knocking on Chavez's door and called her cellphone multiple times with no answer. During their investigation, officers learned Chavez also had 8-month-old twins and they could hear a baby crying inside the apartment.
Police obtained a key to the apartment from the manager and were about to open it when Chavez came to the door. Once inside, they found a "very unkempt" apartment with dirty diapers and empty beer cans, Post said.
Investigators did not find any immediate medical concerns with the children, he said. The children were placed in state protective custody. Chavez is the natural mother of all four children. Her husband, Post said, was also incarcerated at the Utah County Jail on an unrelated matter.
Neighbors told police that they had found Chavez's children wandering about the apartment complex unsupervised in the past and had to return them to her.
Jillian Weiser, coordinator of the crisis nursery at the Family Support and Treatment Center in Orem, said her facilities provide a safe place for children to stay when their parents are facing difficult situations. She sees many struggling single and low-income parents and may have been able to provide help to Chavez.
“I definitely wished something would have been done sooner to support that family (that) is obviously struggling so much that they get to a point like that,” she said. “We're very much working on the prevention side, not just the treatment side, so we like to see any supports that can be put in place ahead of time, during a kind of high-risk situation before it gets to the point of being a full crisis.”
There are services available to help parents who may feel overwhelmed and unaware of options, she said.
“They can come here, if they are that far at their wit’s end ... and seek out help in a safe way, instead of putting anyone in the family at risk,” said Weiser. “I wish we could get the word out there more that services like this exist, that there is help, there are places to go and that parents would feel comfortable taking the initiative to do that.”
Her agency also provides support and assistance to parents who are working toward reunification with their children.
Contributing: Sandra Yi