Lake mother's desperate plea

SHE knew she wasn't coping and she begged authorities to help, but when all they could do was give her a couple of emergency phone numbers the Lake Macquarie mother cracked.

She picked up her screaming three-year-old daughter and dipped the girl's feet in boiling water on November 5, 2010, Newcastle District Court heard yesterday. The girl was severely burnt and will need numerous skin grafts over many years.

Judge Peter Maiden posed the question yesterday, how can the state seek to penalise the mother when the state delegated its responsibilities to the woman and her children to an agency that effectively did nothing.

The woman, who has pleaded guilty to recklessly causing grievous bodily harm and will be sentenced next month, fled an abusive relationship in another state before arriving in the Lake Macquarie area, the court heard.

The 26-year-old, who has no criminal record and cannot be identified, was physically exhausted and asking for respite about two weeks before the incident, defence barrister John Fitzgerald said.

A week before the incident, she was worried about her ability to care for the children because of her own ill health.

She sent a text message to a caseworker saying: "I can't do this any more, I'm scared."

During a telephone conversation to a caseworker at the partly government-funded agency, Brighter Futures, she said, "Please adopt my children out".

Three days before the incident she was diagnosed with major depression and was prescribed a medication that takes a number of weeks to take effect.

The day before the incident she harmed herself, but the best the Brighter Futures program could do for her was to give her some emergency phone numbers, Mr Fitzgerald said.

"My client was in great need and nothing or very little was done," he said.

The mother has not had contact with her son or daughter since the incident. They are cared for by other family members.

The mother has been admitted to a number of mental health units since the incident and has threatened to commit suicide.

A representative from the Department of Community Services told the court that the Brighter Futures program assists families that do not face serious child protection issues.

She said DoCS has policies in place to visit families within certain time frames when reports of harm or potential harm are lodged, but she was reluctant to comment on what sort of response the mother would have received had the mother contacted DoCS.

The maximum penalty for the offence is 10 years' imprisonment.

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