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Woman given suspended sentence for neglect of daughter


A mother who neglected her daughter who was hospitalised twice due to severe head lice that left her with matted hair which took weeks to untangle has been given a suspended sentence.

The 57-year-old Dublin woman had a “meltdown” in the summer of 2018 and took off to the UK for a period of time, leaving her then 15-year-old daughter home alone with €100 for food, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard.

The girl, whose hair was badly matted with headlice when she was discovered by her father, later told social workers her summer had been “sad” and “annoying”. She did not leave her room or shower for two months and reported that she was often hungry.

The woman, who cannot be named to protect the anonymity of the child, pleaded guilty to one count of child neglect on dates between 2013 and 2018, when the girl was aged between nine and 15.

A local detective garda told Emmet Nolan BL, prosecuting, that the child’s parents separated when she was young.

When visiting her father in 2014, then aged nine, he noticed that her hair was badly matted and that she had headlice. He took steps to treat the lice.

Over the next few years, the girl regularly suffered with headlice.

The court heard that the father discussed the issue with the mother, who said she was unable to get the girl to wash her hair. On other occasions, the woman did buy headlice shampoo and engaged in treating her daughter’s hair.

However, the girl was hospitalised as she reached her teenage years and missed considerable amounts of school as a result of the headlice and related severe rashes.

In August 2018, the father visited his daughter at home and found her in her darkened bedroom hunched over her laptop with a hooded top covering her hair.

The room was stuffy and smelly, with old food and cat faeces present.

There was a strong odour coming from the girl, and when the father pulled down her hood, he saw her hair was completely matted, with headlice crawling on her face and on her hoodie.

The mother was in the UK at this time, the court heard.

The man immediately bought headlice products and started trying to deal with the girl’s hair. Tusla was contacted but the father was told it was unable to assist.

He also got in touch with the girl’s school and her doctor, with the girl again being hospitalised for bites on her skin.

The court heard the girl’s hair was “rock solid” with lice and eggs. Each strand took five hours to untangle and treat and the court heard it took three weeks to completely untangle it.

A headlice expert who was called in to help reported finding between 900 and 1000 headlice in the girl’s head.

The girl went to live with her father and the woman was arrested at a later date at her home address.

Tusla eventually got involved with the family and the girl told social workers that her mother and other female relatives spent the summer getting drunk in the house. She said they were noisy, often drinking vodka until 4am.

The court heard the girl was pale and thin at the time, as well as having matted hair. She said she had not showered for a period of two months and she was struggling to sleep because of the noise.

She said her summer had been “sad” and “annoying” and there was often no food in the house.

When questioned by gardaí, the woman admitted there was no shower facilities available for the girl. She said the girl did not like school and used the lice “as an excuse not to go”.

Defence counsel said the woman left for the UK that summer because she was having a “meltdown” and could not cope. She said she left €100 for the child for food.

Sentencing the woman, Judge Martin Nolan said people have an obligation to care for their children. “It is a moral obligation as well as a legal obligation,” he said.

“In this case, (the mother) breached both her moral obligation to care for her child and she committed a criminal offence by not doing so.”

The judge said he felt this was “cruelty by omission, rather than commission”.

“She had an obligation to make sure her child was healthy, fed properly, cared for properly, groomed properly. She had an obligation to ensure her child attended school. I don’t think she fulfilled any of these obligations.”

The judge went on to say he believed the woman was not a bad person, but rather was unable to cope at the time.

He handed down a sentence of two and a half years which he suspended in full.

The court heard the girl’s relationship with her mother has since improved and she is now doing “remarkably well considering”.


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