The mother who left her five children in a van in a SkyCity Casino carpark while she and her partner gambled for two hours has escaped conviction partly because she hopes to become a social worker.
The 29-year-old woman and her 39-year-old partner - who have name suppression to protect the identities of their children - were sentenced in Auckland District Court yesterday after earlier pleading guilty to leaving a child unsupervised.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of a $2000 fine.
A parenting group and legal expert said last night that the mother - who was discharged without conviction, despite police opposition - could consider herself extremely lucky.
The parents spent two hours playing slot machines and drinking at the casino bar on the morning of February 26 while their five children, aged between 11 months and nine years, were left in a van in the casino carpark.
According to the police summary, the woman took "one minute" to check on the children after an hour before returning to the slot machines.
The children were found after a couple heard "hysterical crying" from the van and called police.
Clearly Judge Fraser had more information at his disposal than the Herald. But on the face of it, a discharge without conviction seems to be an extremely lenient outcome for the woman.
And as for her claim that she wants to be a social worker; give us strength! Is a person who is prepared to leave an 11-month-old child locked in a van with older siblings whilst she feeds the family's money into a poker machine the right kind of person to be a social worker? The jury must be out on that.
Worst of all though is the message that this sentence (or should that be non-sentence?) sends out; that once again, the rights and the aspirations of a parent are more important than the rights and safety of children. Those who consider leaving young children unattended will certainly not be deterred by Judge Fraser's decision yesterday.
We don't know if this woman had the ability to make people laugh, but there is nothing funny at all about leaving five children including an 11-month-old baby locked in a vehicle in a public car-park.
FOOTNOTE: Judge Grant Fraser has been mentioned in dispatches here before. He was the judge who granted permanent name suppression to the Prominent Palmerstonian early in 2010.