Jail sentence on the cards for child neglect after ‘house of horrors’ case

Parents and caregivers who seriously neglect children in their care could be subject to jail terms under new laws which Ryan Park claims have the support from the state’s family and community services minister.

Mr Park told the Mercury minister Pru Goward on Wednesday privately agreed to introduce legislation to parliament which would seek to toughen the current sentencing options for people who fail to meet the basic needs of children in their care.

The move comes a month after the Mercury revealed an Illawarra woman who neglected her children and allowed them to live in squalor was only able to be fined under current legislation.

Disgusting: Police were overwhelmed by the presence of faeces and urine stains throughout the living areas, including a child's cot (inset).

Disgusting: Police were overwhelmed by the presence of faeces and urine stains throughout the living areas, including a child's cot (inset).

Police said they discovered the house covered in human faeces, a drawer full of rotting food, unwashed clothing piled high and an infestation of flies and cockroaches in multiple rooms while carrying out a welfare check on the children last October.

The siblings were immediately removed from the woman’s care and she was subsequently charged with neglect under the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act, however only received a fine in line with current NSW legislation, which experts say is the weakest in the country.

The presiding magistrate, Mark Douglass, described the case as one of the worst he’d ever seen and condemned the limited sentencing options, saying cases of animal neglect carried tougher sentences.

“Had the level of abuse these children endured been suffered by animals, this court would have more options available,” he said at the time of sentencing.

Mr Park said he was horrified by the lack of appropriate punishment for the woman and vowed to urgently raise the issue with Ms Goward.

Mr Park claims Ms Goward gave her support for the introduction of tougher penalties during a meeting between the pair on Wednesday.

“The minister has listened and agreed to bring forward this critical legislation to introduce tougher penalties for people who commit serious child neglect,” he said, adding the new penalties would include jail sentences for the most serious cases.

However, Ms Goward would not publicly commit to introducing the legislation when approached for comment on Wednesday, only saying she too supported tougher penalties.

“My preference is to toughen up the sentencing available in the current legislation, and I am now looking into that,” she said.

“I have instructed the Department of Family and Community Services to undertake extensive review and consultation around the adequacy of the existing sentencing options.”