Child protection services were aware that a young child was exposed to "unrelenting domestic violence" and substance abuse but it took the boy's grandmother raising the alarm for him to be finally removed, a judge has found.

The boy's mother, who The Advertiser has chosen not to name to protect the identity of her son, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison on Monday for offending including criminal neglect and assaulting police.

But Judge Paul Muscat said her horrific background of domestic violence and neglect by her own parents weighed heavily on him as he pondered her non-parole period.

When police located the two-year-old boy on October 24, 2018, he had been left by his mother at a house filled with intoxicated people.

He was crawling on the floor in a "heavily soiled nappy", unable to stand or talk and only making a barking noise.

Judge Muscat said the boy was taken to hospital for treatment where his hair was found to be matted and infested with lice.

A pediatrician's report summarised to the court also revealed that the boy had a bacterial skin infection as well as scabs and weeping sores on his body and rotting, decayed teeth.

A baby bottle found at the house where the child was found had the remnants of Coca-Cola inside it.

Judge Muscat said that Department for Child Protection had been made aware of concerns surrounding the boy's home environment.

"The Department for Child Protection appears to have been aware of concerns over your ability to properly care for your son," he said.

"Various notifications indicated a history of lack of supervision, drug and alcohol abuse, concern over his development and of (the mother) not seeking appropriate medical treatment for him.

"Which, it was noted, was occurring while you were yourself a victim of ongoing domestic violence. Given your situation, and as you have now acknowledged, you were simply not fit to care for your son."

The young child was found with weeping sores and rotted teeth but District Court Judge Paul Muscat said he had made marked improvements since receiving treatment.
The young child was found with weeping sores and rotted teeth but District Court Judge Paul Muscat said he had made marked improvements since receiving treatment.

A Department for Child Protection spokesman said the priority was ensuring the safety of children and young people within their family environment.

"The Department for Child Protection was aware of this case, however cannot comment on the specific details," he said.

"Families in contact with the Department for Child Protection are often dealing with a range of complex issues such as domestic violence and mental illness.

"Department staff are required to make informed decisions about a child's safety and in some cases, children and young people need to be placed in alternate care arrangements to keep them safe from abuse and neglect."

Child Protection Minister Rachel Sanderson declined to comment.

The child was not removed from harm until the alarm was raised by the young boy's paternal grandmother.

The mother and child - who lived a transient lifestyle in Outback SA - had travelled to Adelaide to visit her, but when they arrived the grandmother immediately recognised he looked underweight and had a skin infection.

She purchased cream for the sores and booked a doctor's appointment the next day.

The next day the mother left the house and said she would be back to get a lift from the grandmother to the appointment.

She never returned and the grandmother found an empty bottle of vodka in the spare room where the mother had been staying.

The most abused children in Australia: Central Australia has the highest rates of child neglect and abuse in Australia. NewsCorp Australia journalist Paul Toohey investigates the endemic problems that lie beneath the surface and speaks to locals, professionals and government representatives to find out more about what can be done and who can do something about it. NETWORK USE ONLY. NO NEWS.COM.AU.

After not hearing from her for several days, the grandmother called the police and reported both mother and child as missing persons.

The child was found later that day and the mother handed herself in to police in Ceduna more than two weeks later.

Judge Muscat revoked a two-month suspended jail sentence and also sentenced her for spitting on a police officer as she was being detained under the Mental Health Act on January 29, 2020.

He imposed a 12-month non-parole period. The mother will be eligible for release in June 2021.

*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.

Originally published as Why was this poor little boy not rescued earlier?