A Taranaki woman has been jailed for having "psychologically butchered" her three young daughters.

In New Plymouth District Court today, the 35-year-old was sentenced to four years and three months in prison over three counts each of cruelty to a child, assaulting a child and neglect.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, sobbed loudly as the court heard how she'd abused her girls, at times calling them "sluts", "whores", "fat bitches" and "nothing but meat on the ground".

The abuse also included kicking and punching them, and pulling their hair - which left them with bruises about their bodies – and threatening them over reporting anything to police or Oranga Tamariki.

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Court documents showed the abuse stretched six and a half years between March 2011, when the girls were aged 6, 5 and 3, to June 2017, when the eldest sibling died by a suspected suicide and the other two were removed from their mother's care.

Over this period, the girls regularly went to school without having had breakfast and lunch, and wore the same clothes throughout the year, which prompted their school to both feed and clothe them.

All three of the girls were "infested" with head lice for most of the time they were at school, and there were times school staff could see lice crawling down the back of the youngest girl's neck.

The school later referred the mother to a social worker who tried to help the mother with her parenting, but found she wouldn't engage.

When the social worker visited their home, they found "copious" amounts of empty beer and pre-mix bottles, and the smell of marijuana, with none of the girls' rooms having doors.

When school staff took the eldest daughter home, the mother would "regularly be stoned, unable to stand and unable to construct a meaningful sentence".

She used synthetic drugs, P and occasionally cannabis in the presence of her children, and would regularly drink to intoxication.

It came to the point where the school could no longer stand the eldest daughter down, as she was not safe to be at her home.

In a videoed victim impact statement shown to the court, one of the daughters tearfully said: "I always had bruises from those times, and sometimes even lashes, from the things she would use to hit me."

There would never be any meat or vegetables in the house, and money that was supposed to have spent on a Year 7 school uniform had instead been spent on synthetic cannabis.

"I know my sisters were not a priority for mum, but her drugs were."

The panic attacks the girl received became so severe that she would be left with headaches afterward.

On June 25, 2017, the mother had been drinking since 8am and by 9.30am, was intoxicated.

The eldest daughter died that afternoon.

Crown prosecutor Justin Marinovich said the abuse effectively became a way of life for the woman – and unfortunately also for her children.

"The victims were extremely vulnerable and relied upon the offender for care and protection," he said.

"They were unable to fend for themselves in terms of food, hygiene, clothes and protection."

He also noted the long-term psychological harm the girls had suffered.

"For want of a better word, the offender has psychologically butchered the victims … the damage she has inflicted on the victims will be long-lasting and potentially irreversible."

Defence lawyer Paul Keegan told the court his client had come from a dysfunctional home herself.

"The overall picture is tragic and the inter-generational cycle of abuse perpetuated on the defendant has now been passed on to her children."

Keegan said the woman was now suffering disturbed sleep, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

He noted that she was engaged in therapy and education to address her offending, which she had accepted and had not tried to blame anyone else for.

Judge Gregory Hikaka told the woman the case made for sad, and at times very disturbing, reading.

In sentencing her, Judge Hikaka noted she was remorseful, had not tried to shift the blame, and had had a troubled upbringing.

But he also highlighted the seriousness of the offending, and New Zealand's horrendous rate of child abuse.

"You have actually perpetuated the cycle for your daughters, and the shame of it is that, unless they recover and decide to do something different to what you have done to them, it will be three generations of dysfunction and child abuse."