A confidential Family and Community Services report into the family at the centre of Wollongong’s ‘house of horrors’ child neglect case has revealed department caseworkers tried in vain to help the mother in the months leading up to an intervention by police.
From paying outstanding rent to funding industrial cleaning services and purchasing new linen and bedding, FACS caseworkers went to great lengths to help the woman during repeated visits to the house between July and October last year.
However, the report, a copy of which has been viewed by the Mercury, said the mother remained “ambivalent” to the services offered to her and was full of excuses when questioned about the state of the house, which police described as “near uninhabitable” when they attended the property in October 2017.
The report says FACS received two “risk of significant harm” reports in July that year alleging the children were living in unhygienic conditions and that the mother was in significant rental arrears and at risk of homelessness.
Caseworkers who attended the house said it was covered in grime and dirt, there was a cockroach and fly infestation on most floor surfaces and the house reeked of faeces.
There were also at least 20 bags of foul-smelling garbage stacked in the carport outside the home.
The mother told caseworkers she felt “judged” by support services and had recently withdrawn from them.
FACS immediately placed the children with their grandparents, paid for a skip bin to be delivered to the house and organised for cleaning products to be provided.
They reported a significant improvement at the house when they returned a week later. As a result, FACS agreed to pay the woman’s outstanding rent and the children were returned to her care part-time.
Caseworkers attended the house three times over the next month, each time finding the house relatively clean, however noted there was a build up of rubbish and the council bins were not being taken out regularly.
“During this period, [the mother] was supported with the purchase of new bedding and clothing for the children, food vouchers, payment of rental arrears and...the purchase of new beds and mattresses for the children,” the report said.
However, by early September, FACS received another report alleging hazardous conditions in the house, then later that month a further report was received after two of the children were found wandering in the bush unsupervised.
The mother initially denied her poor supervision of the children when caseworkers visited the house in early October however later conceded she could do better.
The caseworkers reported the state of the house had deteriorated significantly since their last visit – they found unwashed clothing piled high, pungent smells inside the home and the sink blocked with dirty brown water that had insects floating in it.
When questioned, the mother said she hadn’t put the bins out for two weeks as two of the children had been home for the school holidays (they had been staying at their grandparents’ house during the week for school) and she wanted to spend time with them and “not focus on cleaning”.
While the woman denied using illicit drugs, she did agree to undertake a random urine testing program over four weeks, but the report said she only attended one of the four appointments between October 10 and 26 and did not provide a valid excuse for her absence on the other occasions. No drugs were found in her system in the one test she took.
Caseworkers organised to attend the house again at 2pm on October 26, however they could not locate the mother when they arrived, prompting them to contact police.
Officers arrived at the house at 4.30pm that afternoon to discover the house in a state of extreme squalor, with human faeces all over the walls and furnishings, rotting food and insect infestation in each of the rooms.
The children were immediately removed from the house and returned to the custody of their grandparents.
When questioned about the state of the house a few days later, the mother was defensive with caseworkers.
“I’m sure every home has a problem with mould” and “you can’t tell me no house has cockroaches” were some of her responses, the report said.
When asked why she had missed 19 weeks of specialist appointments for one of her children, the woman replied “well there’s 365 days in a year so that’s not that bad”.
She eventually told caseworkers she believed the house was in a fit state for the children to live there.
She did, however, agree that FACS could fund an cleaning service for the home, consisting of fumigation, steam cleaning and the purchase of new furniture.
The report said FACS became aware on November 2 that police had arrested the mother and charged her with two counts of criminal neglect.
An interim apprehended violence order was put in place preventing the children from living with their mother.
Between November and January, FACS had six face-to-face visits or telephone calls with the mother in an attempt to help her address her housing issues with an aim to restoring custody of the children.
However it has since been determined the children will remain living with their grandparents for the foreseeable future.
In court last week, Magistrate Mark Douglass made a three year AVO preventing the mother from living with her children.
He also fined the mother a record $25,000 after she pleaded guilty to two child neglect charges, but lamented the restrictive sentencing options that didn’t allow him to impose a jail sentence.