Litter and dirty clothes were scattered throughout the house, which smelled like urine. The cupboards were bare but for mouldy bread and corned beef.

There was no fridge or washing machine.

Cereal was scattered throughout the lounge. The toilet bowl was full of food scraps and faeces.

When police found the five young siblings, deserted and trying to care for themselves, they had been eating the decaying food because there was nothing else.

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Today their mother was sentenced to community detention and intensive supervision for their wilful neglect.

Tala Pita will likely never have her children returned to her.

At her sentencing at the Manukau District Court this morning, the 33-year-old's lawyer Tamara Ormond said Pita had "no real excuse" for her actions but explained it stemmed from domestic violence.

Her marriage was breaking down.

"She is sorry - she's very sorry that she put the kids through that. She now knows the risk that they were exposed to. She's certainly felt the damage of her actions," Ormond said.

The five children - the oldest was 11 when the offending was uncovered in 2015 - were quickly placed in Child Youth and Family's care and Pita now only sees them once a month.

But she rarely sees her youngest.

This has been hard for her and she's been taking part in programmes through a church to "grow as a person and a parent in the future", her lawyer told the court.

Judge Andre Wilton accepted Pita had been trying to better herself said it was a mitigating factor, along with her guilty pleas to the five neglect charges although it was "rather late in the piece".

The judge noted that, for reasons that escaped him entirely, Pita had denied the five charges of wilful neglect and it was only after he spoke to her "rather sternly" that she admitted her actions in November.

A guilty plea along with rehabilitative steps would be the only way she could have stayed out of prison, Judge Winton said.

"You deserted them and left them to their own devices."

However, the pre-sentence reports were "not very positive" and the address she was living in with two ministers was also home to five children, two of whom were under 10 years old.

The police prosecutor said he was concerned the children would end up in her care.

But Judge Winton said he hoped the ministers didn't allow that to happen.

He started with a sentence of two years in prison and gave reductions for her guilty plea and rehabilitative steps.

Judge Winton accepted the chances of further offending were "remote, especially if the children are not returned to your care" and said home detention would impose "more problems than [it would] solve".

Pita was sentenced to six months' community detention between the hours of 7pm and 7am, seven days a week so she "can't go out and party" and enjoy herself and 18 months' intensive supervision to be served concurrently.

But while the situation was sad both for the children and the mother, a man who works with in-need families in South Auckland everyday said the case was rare.

It was also a symptom of other social issues, Darryl Evans told the Herald.

The chief executive of Mangere Budgeting Services said he could never excuse what Pita did and offered her no sympathy there was "obviously a lot more going on".

Evans said parents, especially those who were impoverished, often lacked the skills and education on how to raise children.

They often don't know of the services available to them, how to cook for their family or keep their homes clean.

Work and Income is usually quite flexible in paying for essential white ware like fridges, washing machines and stoves even if a family had maxed out its benefits.

"I actually find it sad for her more than anything and sad for the kids."

But Evans said he believed the case was rare - of the 3,000 homes or more he has helped each year for 17 years, he's never seen that level of neglect.