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Mother found guilty

of neglecting four children

in squalid home

BY LOUIS ANDREWS COURT REPORTER
29 Apr, 2011 12:00 AM
A mother who left her four children alone in a squalid north Canberra home, strewn with dog faeces and rotting food, has been found guilty of child neglect.Justice Richard Refshauge last week ruled the mother, who cannot be named, was guilty of neglecting her four children in June 2008, when they were aged between five and 13. 

The judge, in his published verdict, said he was convinced the 38-year-old woman knew the living conditions were squalid but ”clearly did little or nothing about it”.

But the defence barrister, during last year’s Supreme Court trial, argued her client was an ”isolated and fragile” woman doing her best to care for her family.

Care and Protection Services began an appraisal action at the start of June after a report was made the previous month concerning ”instability in the family unit”.

Authorities went to the inner-north house to visit the family, but the court heard the mother was angry with the interference from child protection officers.

An inspection of the premises on June 2, 2008, suggested rooms were ”generally clean”, but witnesses told the court the condition of the house deteriorated in the next three weeks.

About a fortnight after the inspection, two care and protection officers returned to the house but the mother refused to let them further than the front room.

A senior child protection officer told the court he had no justification to take emergency action and remove the children at the time, although he had concerns about how the mother was coping.

But four days later police were called to the house and found the children unattended.

Detective Sergeant Aidan Milner told the court his first impression was the children must have ”gone wild” and ransacked the lounge room.

But inside the combined kitchen and dining room the officers were greeted with ”animal excrement smeared over the floor” and ”numerous piles of garbage and clothing”.

Sergeant Milner said the floor was ”so cluttered with rubbish and food scraps and clothing and dirt that I had to pick and choose the areas of grey linoleum to walk on” to avoid spraining an ankle or stepping on covered items.

Police and child protection authorities arrived at the home the next day to arrange the children’s removal.

The court also heard photographs taken of the home in the following days showed mouldy food in the kitchen, piles of clothes in the lounge room, trip hazards covering the floors, sharp knives in reach of children, dog food cans left open with serrated edges and half-eaten food.

The mother’s barrister, Bernadette Boss, had argued her client was ”an isolated and fragile woman who certainly is not providing the type of home that generally one would wish the children to be raised in but she’s certainly doing her best”.

Dr Boss argued there should be reasonable doubt about whether the woman was reckless regarding the issue of negligence, and that the children were ”healthy and not suffering any harm”.

But Justice Reshauge was not convinced.

He accepted the children were clothed and sent to school, but said her efforts were not enough given the state of the home.

”[The mother] was described, without challenge, as an intelligent woman,” he wrote.

”She clearly had some parenting skills and I am satisfied she would have known that the condition of the house was unacceptable to the relevant degree.”

The woman will be sentenced at a later date.

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