ARLINGTON, TX—When Ceci Covington was growing up there were piano lessons, sports and family trips. Her Arlington parents say Ceci who has down syndrome didn't miss out.
But, now after three decades of raising their daughter, Frank and Chila Covington have been cut out of Ceci's world. They are allowed to see their 39-year old daughter, who lives in a nursing home, just a few hours a week.
"We are still in a state of shock," Frank Covington says. His wife adds that they are not able to sleep.
The couple say the traumatic ordeal started when they put Ceci in a group home, to give her more independence. They say after disputes over care, they were dragged into a legal battle, where they lost custody of their daughter to the state.
"I do call it "gestapo" justice," Frank Covington says. "They just kidnap your kids," Chila said.
The Covington's say they were not aware of the secretive hearings under which their daughter was made a ward of the state. They say a Tarrant County probate court upheld allegations of cruelty and stripped them of their guardianship of Ceci. They say all of it was done without their knowledge. They only received a phone call.
"If you read the charges, they are just gross. It talks about cruelty and neglect, like we were beating her."
But, advocates of the guardianship system are quick to defend the hearings as a way to protect children from danger. They say a child or even an adult in a bad situation can be removed quickly.
After a year of legal battles, Chila says the couple is buried in documents and debt. She says they have spent their retirement money to win Ceci back. Her mother worries that her daughter is being heavily medicated.
"We are not allowed any access to her medications," Chila said.
The Covington's aren't convinced they will ever get their daughter back. They don't hold out much hope for victory in a court hearing two weeks from now. They just want music back in their home and the chance to change the system.
"We want to fix things so other people don't have to live this nightmare," Frank Covington said.