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Boy dies in dirty, junk-filled home

A 5-year-old died in his putrid home after his parents gave him no treatment for a cut foot, but as court reporter Adam Cooper explains, from the outside the boy's parents seemed 'like a normal couple'.

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The neglect of a young boy was reported to authorities several times before he died, aged five, after cutting his toe on rubbish in his family's filthy Melbourne home, according to court documents.

Both the police and child-protection workers were notified at least twice each during the child's short life, but either did not follow up the report or went away after knocking on the family's front door and receiving no response.

The boy's mother, 41, on Wednesday pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless conduct endangering serious injury and failing to register the birth of a child. Her husband, 43, faces the same charges but is yet to enter a plea. The names of the couple and their son have been suppressed to protect the identity of the couple's other son, who was eight at the time of his brother's death.

A police photograph tendered to court.

A police photograph tendered to court.

A woman who lived next door to the family reported concerns for the boy to the Department of Human Services in April 2009, three years before he died, after she found the then two-year-old naked and covered in faeces, documents tendered to Melbourne Magistrates Court show.

But the department's child-protection service did not take any action because an ''immediacy of risk had not been established'', one DHS worker said in a statement to police. Witness statements reveal another neighbour said someone they believed to be a DHS worker visited the family's home, up to two years before the boy died, and yelled: ''You're not fit to be parents, I'm going to do everything I can to take the kids away.''

Court documents also show police visited at least twice before the boy died.

A photograph taken by police and tendered to court of the house in Melbourne's north-western suburbs.

A photograph taken by police and tendered to court of the house in Melbourne's north-west.

In April 2011 - about 16 months before the boy died - police responded to a neighbour's complaint but assumed the house was unoccupied. Then, in the weeks before the boy fell ill and died after cutting his toe on an open can of cat food, the neighbour who lived opposite rang police after he and his wife saw the youngster running naked outside one cold morning.

The neighbour later told police his wife had said: ''Come over here, buddy'' to the boy, but the child eventually returned inside his own house. The neighbour said in his statement that police attended that morning, but the parents did not come to the door.

The parents later left a note in their neighbour's letterbox, apologising for the commotion and saying their son had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and could be ''nasty''.

The boy who died was born seven weeks premature at home in September 2006 and, according to court documents, was never immunised, never saw a GP, never enrolled in kindergarten or school and had little contact with anyone other than his immediate family.

He was taken to Sunshine Hospital in the days after his birth and monitored for 20 days.

But court documents say his mother refused the offer of hospital nurses to make home visits, and that she would take her son to the Maternal Child and Health Nurse service instead. A DHS worker said in a statement the mother took her son to the nursing service once, in October 2006, when the baby appeared to be gaining weight.

The mother told the nurse at the time she would arrange for fortnightly visits, and the service reported no concerns with the mother's care for her son, the DHS worker said.

The DHS worker told police that Maternal Child and Health records show that by the time the boy was two, he had not been seen for 18 months.

The court had been told toxicology reports have been unable to determine how the boy died. His mother had rushed him to an ambulance branch office after finding him lifeless in his room, but paramedics were unable to revive him. Victorian Forensic Paediatric Medical Service staff said in statements that tetanus could have been a cause, botulism could not be excluded and food poisoning was possible. Other statements say E.coli was detected on the boy's toe, under a dirty bandage.

The woman who lived next door told investigators that on the day she found the then two-year-old boy hurt, she told the mother she would call the police.

The woman said the mother, speaking through a gap in her front door, said her son did not need to see a doctor, as children that age ''don't get hurt, rather they 'bounce, not break', and that he would be OK''.

Child-protection workers who visited the house after the boy's death reported it as hazardous and neglectful, unsuitable for anyone to live in and posing an ''extreme danger to an unsupervised and unwell child'', a statement says.

The lead police investigator said in his statement the boys' parents ''had neglected both of them over the course of a number of years''.

''They have placed both of them in danger of both emotional and physical harm,'' he said.

The boys' mother is scheduled to appear before the County Court in June. The father is due to return to Melbourne Magistrates Court next month. Both are on bail.

The boy's death prompted an investigation by Bernie Geary, the principal commissioner of the Commission for Children and Young People, and details about the case were conveyed to the office of Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge.

The state coroner is also expected to investigate.