Neglectful parents get 'rehabilitive' sentences

BRONWYN TORRIE
Last updated 15:16 01/07/2013

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The Lower Hutt parents who seriously neglected their young children want to get them back.

A 25-year-old man and a 23-year-old woman were today sentenced in the Wellington District Court on four counts each of neglect.

They had pleaded guilty to not providing medical care, food and nutrition for the children, aged 4, 3, 2 years, and 7 months, who were found dirty and malnourished with head lice infestations and open scabies wounds in January.

The man was sentenced to six months community detention, 18 months intensive supervision and 80 hours of community work.

The woman was sentenced to 18 months intensive supervision and 160 hours of community work.

Permanent name suppression was granted to both parents to protect the identity of their children, who are still in state care.

Police were called to a Hutt Valley address on January 4 following calls from concerned neighbours about children running on the road.

A number of adults were heavily intoxicated, aggressive and uncooperative.

The mother was stopped driving with a breath alcohol level of 957 micrograms - more than twice the legal limit - and police took nine children from the property.

The children were handed to Child, Youth and Family who placed them in the care of a whanau member.

Despite CYF social workers making it clear the children should not be returned to their parents, they were found back with them on January 7. The parents were arrested three days later.

Police said conditions inside the house were "sparse", with drug utensils in the kitchen and no food or suitable bedding. They also failed to find any formula or baby food for the 7-month-old.

Medical examinations of the children revealed significant neglect, including untreated scabies, head lice infestations and dental cavities.

One of the children was wearing a t-shirt with the back covered in blood due to open sores.

The older children were hospitalised, with one needing intravenous antibiotics.

Judge Susan Thomas described it as a "sad case".

She said she had given the sentences for rehabilitative reasons, so the parents could work toward taking the children back in the future.

Both had expressed through their lawyers their desire to regain custody of their children.

The father had said losing his children had been the "wake up call" that he needed to get himself back on track, Judge Thomas said.

He had expressed a "genuine desire" to be a better parent and learning how to do that after having a troubled upbringing that saw him removed from his alcoholic mother when he was a baby and never meeting his father, she said.

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"You know the damage has been done," she said.

"I'm sure you don't want the same for your children."

As part of their sentence, the parents will undergo alcohol and drug treatment and complete parenting, budgeting and relationship courses.

The parents, who had been together off and on for seven years, had a broad understanding of what it took to be parents, but failed to put it into practice, Judge Thomas said.

"They [the children] trusted you to look after them, they relied on you and you let them down significantly," she said.

"If you really want your children returned to you, then I suggest the first step is to complete the sentence."

The mother was one of 18 children. She had started to binge-drink when she was about 13 or 14 years old and had been expelled from school. By 17 she was a mother.

She had also been convicted and fined on three charges of leaving a child under 14 without supervision.

Judge Thomas said the mother was described as being heavily motivated to attend courses to get custody of her children and to become a good mother.

Police have previously called the case "one of the worst cases of neglect seen in the Hutt Valley".

Hutt Valley police area commander Inspector Mike Hill said the community was "rightly appalled" that local children were growing up in such conditions.

"We all want children to grow up in homes where they are warm, fed and taken to the doctor when they are sick," he said.

"Keeping kids safe is everyone's responsibility and I would encourage anyone who is worried about a child to speak up.

"This was not an issue of poverty for this family, these parents simply prioritised alcohol, drugs and parties ahead of the needs of their children."

Child, Youth and Family was arranging long-term care for the children.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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