A 5-year-old St. Paul girl who was found walking around alone outside her apartment building and her 2-year-old brother are doing well in foster care, according to their father, Arthur Kennedy. But neither parent is likely to regain custody of the siblings anytime soon.

Their mother, Alexis A. Kennedy, 24, pleaded guilty last week to two counts of gross-misdemeanor child neglect. Her daughter, then 4, was found Jan. 6 walking around a parking lot on the East Side without shoes or a coat. Police then found the children's bedroom door tied shut with a bungee cord, feces smeared on the walls and the 2-year-old boy crying in a urine-soaked diaper.

Alexis Kennedy, 24, will be sentenced March 13 before Ramsey County District Judge James H. Clark. She faces up to 120 days in jail and two years of probation. A judge has forbid her to have contact with her children.

Arthur Kennedy, 27, who is estranged from the children's mother, said a court hearing will be held today in which the county probably will get custody of the children for up to a year. Kennedy said he hopes to someday regain custody and he's looking into other options if that isn't possible because of his own legal troubles.

He is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 21 on a guilty plea to domestic assault involving his physical mishandling of an ex-girlfriend's 9-year-old daughter in December.

He's been allowed supervised visitation with the children.

"The first time I just watched them play," he said Wednesday. "You can learn a lot just from observing. I could tell my daughter had been trying to take care of her brother. She just turned 5 on Saturday."

PAT PHEIFER