Booze took her 11 kids - and nearly her life

BELINDA FEEK
Last updated 05:00 14/07/2014
Amohia Rawiri
REMORSEFUL: Amohia Rawiri, 40, walks into the Huntly District Court on Thursday for sentencing on charges of neglecting her children.

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Whiskey fixed Amohia Rawiri's broken life until she decided to end it. Every day for two months she sank into a pool of alcohol at the end of a no exit street in west Huntly. When she had nothing left to mend, the mother-of-many and carer-of-none stepped in front of a truck.

Her home is a five minute drive and a world away from State Highway One and mainstream New Zealand: turn off at Kentucky Fried, cross the river's wide winter belly and soon Semple St comes into view. Rawiri lives at the far corner on a dead-end side road beyond the boarded-up vacant houses.

There, where tags such as FTP adorn the tarseal, Rawiri tells her story.

The 40-year-old has been hauled in front of the courts charged with ill-treating some of her eleven progeny, aged three, four and five, between April and August last year.

The authorities have taken every one out of her care, except the soul visibly growing inside her who is due to be born in August.

ROAMING HUNGRY

On Thursday, she stood in the Huntly District Court dock to be sentenced by Judge Sharp after earlier admitting five charges of ill-treating her kids.

The police summary of facts said Rawiri allowed her offspring to roam around the neighbourhood hungry and poorly clothed. Instead of putting food in their bellies, she spent money on booze and drugs.

Since 1996, CYF has been alerted to Rawiri's property 28 times.

Rawiri claims they harass her and come knocking time after time at random moments in the day.

Aggrieved family members made up stories and dobbed her in, she said.

The summary said her home was sparsely furnished; Rawiri said all the kids had beds and there was one couch.

In July last year, CYF came knocking and there were children playing inside the house yet no one came to the door. The children's father, who lived nearby, claimed to be looking after them.

On another day, they said Rawiri was drinking. Rawiri said she wasn't. She said she was well aware there was not to be alcohol or drugs in her house.

What they do agree on is that there's never been any violence towards the children.

On Thursday, Judge Sharp, along with police prosecutor Baden Hilton, were impressed with how she appears to be turning her life around. CYF has also been impressed. So much, that Rawiri was given custody of one of her younger children for the recent school holidays.

Judge Sharp noted that her offending in the past - unrelated to this - always involved alcohol.

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He told her if she can knock that on the head and continue with her rehabilitation - counselling, drug and alcohol and parenting courses - she could expect to have some of her children back.

"On the other hand, if you don't heed the warnings you will be back here with terrible results.

"The fact that you are engaged in the process of rehabilitation will put you in a position where these things may be put behind you."

Hilton said the gauntlet had earlier been laid down with the ball being in her court to change.

"She fairly and squarely caught the ball, sir," Hilton told Judge Sharp. With help from Waikato Iwi liaison staff, Rawiri had graduated from a domestic violence course, and was also taking up other courses in the community.

In sentencing Rawiri to eight months' home detention and 80 hours' community work, Judge Sharp urged her to reach out for help if she ever needed it.

CHILDREN TAKEN

Apart from her bender last year, and a few drinks on May 9 this year, Rawiri said she's been clean since 2010.

She loves her kids, she said.

Yes, she may have been young and stupid when her and the father of her 12 children first met 21 years ago. Yes, it wasn't until their first six were taken away that they realised how stupid they were.

Yet that was nothing to what Rawiri felt in August last year, six months after moving down from Tuakau.

Some family and friends were drinking in the shed, metres from her front door, when police arrived. Her kids, she said, were sleeping inside on the couch. Rawiri said she wasn't drinking and had gone out to get fish and chips after her five-year-old wandered outside hungry. When she came home, they were gone.

She freaked that night, she said.

Her other two children were at a babysitter's place and she camped down there, hiding, for a week until CYF tracked her down and left her childless.

"After they took my kids I just hit rock bottom, using alcohol, whiskey," Rawiri said.

"But I was so hurt I didn't know how to deal with it. I drank every day, all day, until about two months later and I felt sick. I was frail, I was starving but I didn't know it.

"I drank. I thought there was nothing better to do than to take the pain away. I didn't eat. My family were concerned, but hugs and cuddles were the best thing they could do."

Drinking was the only thing that made her feel better.

"I couldn't stay strong. The thought about my children gone was too heart breaking so I had to hit [alcohol] hard. I couldn't believe it myself but I had missed days, I didn't even know what day it was."

Constantly, she cried. She couldn't stop. She was angry, too, and the whiskey fuelled her.

CRY FOR HELP

Her life bottomed out two months later as she walked across the road. Rawiri could have made it to the other side, she said, but for some reason, and without a second thought, she stopped in the path of a truck and was injured.

The driver rushed to her aid. He wanted to call the police, yet Rawiri said no, pulled her broken self up and "sort of ran, or limped away".

At home, she ignored calls for hospital treatment and slumped into bed where she stayed.

"I couldn't eat, I was throwing up. I had the shakes. Being physically hurt as well made me realise that I couldn't do anything to take the pain away so I decided to pick myself up and I haven't turned back since."

She got a doctor and has been "going hard" with counselling. She and her partner go together. They've made a pact to stop drinking and concentrate on getting their kids back.

"I wouldn't be this person I am now. I wouldn't be here. It's done heaps for me. All my pain has pretty much gone now and I know that I'm doing something about it now."

When Rawiri entered her guilty pleas in June, Judge Glen Marshall noted the case didn't feature physical abuse.

"It's a case of neglect, lack of supervision and alcohol and drug abuse."

He noted that the penalty for the charge of ill-treating or neglecting a child had increased from a maximum five year prison term to 10 years as a result of legislative changes in 2012.

"The aggravating factors are somewhat inherent in the charge. There's a breach of trust that is gross between Rawiri and her children who were left unsupervised and to fend for themselves over a prolonged period of six to seven months."

DRINKING WITH NEIGHBOURS

Rawiri is one of two Waikato women to admit neglect-type charges in the past month.

Hamilton woman Channelle Hemaima Tepania left her three children at home alone to go boozing with her neighbours overnight on March 6 this year.

In the Hamilton District Court last month, Tepania admitted a charge of committing a criminal nuisance by leaving her three children without reasonable supervision and care knowing it would endanger their safety.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

Judge Philip Connell convicted Tepania and told her he would consider a sentence that also benefited her children.

Tepania had since completed a Salvation Army parenting course.

She was remanded on bail to reappear for sentence in September. 

- Waikato Times

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