Lice neglect mum: I have lot to learn

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A mother who repeatedly sent her 5-year-old daughter to school with lice, scabies and open sores says she has a lot to learn about being a mother.

Sian Corbett-Pitman, 23, was last week sentenced to 12 months' intensive supervision and 100 hours' community work after she pleaded guilty to a charge of neglect of a child in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering. The Bay of Plenty Times Weekend reported on Saturday that Corbett-Pitman sent her daughter to school smelly, hungry, riddled with head lice, open sores and suffering scabies.

Corbett-Pitman, who is pregnant with her fourth child, said she thought the judge's decision was fair, conceding she did not take adequate care of her child.

"I reckon that [the verdict] was pretty good. Plus it was more me needing help than the punishment.

"[And] I get the budget advice and parenting course [too]. They'll help heaps, especially the parenting course. I'm looking forward to that. I actually have trouble disciplining my children, I kind of let them run free," she said.

She described her 5-year-old daughter as "the life of the house" but the child was constantly let down by inattentive and incompetent parenting.

After months of concern from the child's school, the girl was taken by Child, Youth and Family to Tauranga Hospital. She was then placed in her grandmother's care, where she still lives, and is attending a new school.

The mother now sees her daughter only in the weekends.

Corbett-Pitman's partner Nicky Taikato, a Mongrel Mob associate, is about half-way through a six-week prison sentence for recidivist drink-driving. She remains the sole-carer of her two other children, aged 1 and 3. Corbett-Pitman said she simply didn't do enough to keep her daughter safe and clean.

And while she contested having sent her child to school without food she agreed her health care had been sub-par.

"The food was really a let-down. She always went to school with lunch but she was scared to eat it there. She always ended up bringing it home and eating," she said.

"[But] the scabies and head lice - yeah, that was shocking. [I should have] just paid more attention to her. I've seen worser mums [sic]. I just never had taken my daughter to the doctor's when I should have. I shouldn't have let it get to what it did.

"I did it myself [treated the scabies] with a cream I already had. I think I kind of left it too long, I should have actually taken her in. She needed antibiotics."

Merivale Primary School principal Jan Tinetti said although the school had noted the child's condition in February, it wasn't until her ailments began to accumulate in June that Child, Youth and Family was called in.

"It came through the public health nurse. We're not health professionals, we can't make those calls. Lower decile schools have more access to public health nurses.

"We always put the needs of the kid first. We have to make sure these kids are safe all the time. When the health issues kicked in ... that's where the public health nurse make those calls," she said.

Mrs Tinetti said the girl was beautiful, which was an indication that Corbett-Pitman wasn't a complete failure as a mother.

"She was a beautiful kid. We loved her dearly, she was just beautiful. She was a happy kid. So there had been some good parenting along the way somewhere.

"The whole good side is mum is realising it [the neglect] now and getting the help she needs. And the girl is getting the help she needs," she said.

The officer-in-charge of the Western Bay police child protection team described this case as "shockingly sad example of very poor parenting skills".

Detective Sergeant Peter Blackwell urged people to report neglect to police or other agencies that try to educate people to improve their parenting skills. "But when the neglect crosses the line into criminal activity then we will take a prosecution if there is sufficient evidence to do so. This was a case where the child's mother definitely crossed the line and had to be prosecuted for her complete failure to care for her daughter properly."

Gate Pa School principal Richard Inder said Child, Youth and Family would have had dealings with the school 20 to 30 times in the past year.

In most cases a family, friends or neighbours had contacted CYF.

In other cases, where staff suspected children were not being properly cared for, the school had contacted CYF themselves.

"We know and appreciate that some parents are struggling in these economic times and we do our level best to help and support them. If we feel that child protection is an issue then we have a legal responsibility now to report it," he said.

A group of four to 10 parents also came to the school on a weekly basis to discreetly check children's hair for nits.

- with staff reporters

- Bay of Plenty Times

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