24 October 2023

Faeces, cockroaches, broken glass and knives: mum sentenced for neglecting children

| Albert McKnight
ACT Court

A woman has been sentenced after she admitted neglecting her children in 2022 and 2023. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

CONTENT WARNING: This article refers to child abuse.

After escaping a civil war and being enslaved by her own family when she fled to Australia, a young mother was suffering from the tragedies she’d endured when she neglected her children twice over two years.

The mother, who can’t be named to protect the identities of the children, pleaded guilty to three counts of neglecting a child before she was sentenced in the ACT Magistrates Court on Monday (23 October).

A neighbour heard her son crying in February 2022, so went to investigate, finding the child wearing soiled clothing and standing behind the locked screen door.

Police were called and tried to contact the mother, but she didn’t answer so they organised for a locksmith to allow them into the home.

The officers saw faeces on the floor, broken glass and a knife, as well as dismantled beds with no sheets, while the son also hadn’t been left any water to drink.

The mother eventually returned, but Magistrate Jane Campbell said she’d been away from home for at least almost four hours and noted that two was a vulnerable age.

“They are able to get into everything, even if you do lock them away,” she said.

“To leave a child for such an extended period of time, in my view, is likely to cause harm to that child psychologically.”

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The mother was arrested and bailed over that incident before police were called to her home again in April 2023 while she was there with her son and her second child, a six-year-old.

She then spent almost half an hour looking for a key to her locked door before letting them inside. When entering, the officers noticed an odour, as well as a 20 cm knife that had been left on a child’s car seat on the floor.

The house was filled with cockroaches, the bedrooms were inaccessible, no sheets were on the mattresses, a shisha and a bong were on the kitchen bench, and there was mouldy food in the fridge.

However, regarding the last point, Magistrate Campbell remarked, “You might find mouldy food in a lot of fridges”.

The officers also said it was uncomfortably warm, but the magistrate said she was not concerned about that.

“A parent has very little control over the weather,” she said.

Ultimately, she thought the second incident was a failure to provide a safe home for the children, saying, “it’s messy” but also “it’s not the worst I’ve seen”.

Prosecutor Rhiannon McGlinn said she was concerned about the presence of knives during both incidents, saying it meant the two-year-old had been left in danger when he was unattended.

But she also told the court that photos of the scene “clearly show someone who is overwhelmed”.

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The mother’s lawyer, Legal Aid’s Georgia Le Couter, said her client suffered “a history most of us can’t even imagine”.

The court heard she had experienced the “depravity” of a civil war, came to Australia where she became a “domestic slave” to her family, ran away from them while still a teenager, and then her partner exploited and emotionally abused her.

She has a history of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Ms Le Couter said her client’s children were now in the care of Child and Youth Protection Services, but she saw them on weekends during supervised visits.

The mother was convicted and sentenced to an 18-month good behaviour order, during which she will be subject to supervision by Corrective Services and must attend assessments, counselling or programs as directed, in particular, to do with mental health and parenting.

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