SYDNEY - The New South Wales Government admitted yesterday that it had failed the family of a 12-year-old girl who is set to become one of Australia's youngest mothers.

The girl's father sought help from child welfare officers after learning that her mother had allowed their daughter's 15-year-old boyfriend to move in, and that the pair were sharing a bed.

But the Department of Community Services (DOCS) did not intervene, and in March, after taking over custody of his daughter, the father discovered she was pregnant.

The State Minister, Linda Burney, acknowledged that major mistakes had been made in the department's dealings with the troubled family, who live in the country town of Dubbo, in western New South Wales.

She said staff had been dealing with more urgent cases at the time, but nonetheless "could have done a lot more" to assist.

The girl, who has been sleeping with her boyfriend since she was 11, has reportedly grown up amid mental illness and alleged violence. She ran away after her mother entered a mental health unit three months ago, but is now living with her father.

None of the family can be named, for legal reasons.

The 12-year-old's father informed the police after he found out about her sexual relationship. However, officers said they were unable to get involved because both youngsters were under the age of consent and the girl claimed to be a willing partner.

The father also approached his local MP, Dawn Fardell, who said yesterday that he was "beside himself".

Burney, the Community Services Minister, called it "a disturbing case". She told ABC radio: "It is true, in my view, that DOCS should have intervened more strenuously than they did. The father did contact Community Services in early March. There was some investigation, but clearly not enough was done, and I want to acknowledge that."

She said the situation involved "a very difficult family dynamic", and that welfare officers had been busy with more pressing cases.

"My advice is that there was some very severe neglect and abuse cases being dealt with at the time. But even given that, I acknowledge that DOCS could have done a lot more than what they have done in terms of this young woman."

The department is now working closely with the family, and will provide counselling and parenting services. The girl's baby is expected to be brought up by her father and his partner.

According to Burney, "over-stretched" resources will be eased by an extra A$520 million ($653 million) due to be allocated to child protection in yesterday's state budget.

The Opposition's community services spokeswoman, Pru Goward, claimed it was not "an isolated case", saying that DOCS often ignored warnings from families and foster carers.

Fardell told the Sydney Daily Telegraph: "It is a child having a child. We need to surely look at what we can do ... We are accountable to society for allowing this to happen."