The Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) has been asked to review the adequacy of child neglect penalties after the Mercury revealed an Illawarra mother allowed her three children to live in a house smeared in human faeces.
The revelation came less than a week after this newspaper published details of the squalid living conditions and aired a Wollongong magistrate’s criticism of the restrictive sentencing laws that prevented him from sending the woman to jail.
The mother was convicted of child neglect charges and fined $25,000 in Wollongong Local Court last Friday; the maximum penalty that could have been imposed was a $44,000 fine.
Magistrate Mark Douglass told the court it was one of the worst cases of neglect he had ever seen and that the woman would have faced a harsher sentence “had the level of abuse these children endured been suffered by animals”.
The Mercury asked Minister for Family and Community Services Pru Goward a series of questions following the case, including whether she would take action to bring forward legislation to have tougher penalties imposed.
In response, a spokeswoman for Ms Goward said: “The Department of Family and Community Services has been asked to review the adequacy of sentencing options under the Children and Young Persons Care and Protection Act.”
The call came after Keira MP Ryan Park wrote to Ms Goward and used the floor of the NSW Parliament to express his concern.
Mr Park said severe child neglect being a fine-only offence was “sending the wrong signal”.
“This is a criminal offence at the most serious level. It is perpetrated on young people who are unable to defend themselves and are unable to leave the environment into which they are born,” he said.