California child abuse couple
Police announced the arrests of (right) Eraca Dawn Craig, 31, and (left) Christian Jessica Deanda, 44, on Friday, a week after the couple's children were found.Monterey County Sheriff's office

Two women have been arrested in California for child abuse and neglect in what police have described as one of the worst cases of child maltreatment they have ever come across.

Eraca Dawn Craig, 31, and her partner Christian Jessica Deanda, 44, were arrested on child abuse charges on 15 March after an eight-year-old-girl and two boys aged five and three were found at a house in Salinas, northern California, by police officers.

Monterey County Sheriff Scott Miller said conditions inside the house were deplorable and the malnourished children "looked like they had come out of a concentration camp" when they were rescued by officers.

Sheriff Miller said the case was one of the worst he had encountered in more than 30 years of law enforcement.

"(This is) one of those cases that sticks with you for some time. When you've got over 30 years in the business, you've seen way too many of these types of things before... but this is, in terms of child abuse and neglect, this is toward the top."

Miller said all three children exhibited signs of starvation, physical and emotional abuse, although it was the girl who appeared to have been the main target. Deputies said the girl had been shackled by the neck or ankles to prevent her from reaching any food. The girl has been undergoing treatment in hospital since being rescued.

The case was uncovered by authorities investigating why the children had missed several appointments.

One of the two arrested women is the three-year-old boy's biological mother. The girl and eight-year-old boy are adopted.

Deanda and Craig pleaded not guilty in Monterey County criminal court and were scheduled for a preliminary hearing on 28 March. All three children have now been taken into protective custody.