A toddler found running down a highway in her pyjamas "looking for mummy" had been left home alone while her mother went out drinking.
The 3-year-old Masterton girl was found, distressed and wearing a wet nappy, by a passing motorist about 12.15am on Saturday.
She had pushed a chair up against a door so she could climb up to let herself out of the house, and was heading south on Opaki Rd, which doubles as State Highway Two.
Her mother, 27, had left the house 1 hour earlier to go drinking with friends. She has been charged with neglecting a child and will appear in Masterton District Court on Thursday.
She said yesterday that she put her daughter to bed about 7pm on Friday before starting to drink with a friend. Before they left, about 10.45pm, she arranged for a family friend to come and watch the girl, but did not wait for the friend to arrive.
Because of how much she had drunk, she struggled to remember many of the night's events. "It's horrible, really horrible, I'm so lucky nothing bad happened to her," she said. "I can't change it now. I can't really sleep at the moment, to be honest."
She said she was later handcuffed by police and spent the night in a cell. Her daughter was put in the care of her grandparents, but the pair were reunited later on Saturday.
Yesterday morning the mother, who is separated from the girl's father, booked herself into alcohol counselling. "It's my own stupid fault," she said. "I certainly won't be drinking again."
Registered nurse Jenna Jeffcoat, who found the girl, had been driving to Masterton after a shift at Palmerston North Hospital.
"I've just seen this little girl sprinting down the road, so I did a quick survey to see if there was anyone around and there wasn't," she said. "I pulled over and asked her if she was looking for her mummy and she said that she was."
The girl had a wet nappy and her pyjama top was open. Ms Jeffcoat called police and wrapped the girl in a blanket in her car to keep her warm. "She was OK, she was just distressed that she didn't know where her mother was, but she calmed down once she knew everything was all right.
"When I drove off [after police arrived] I started thinking about it and it almost made me cry, just the thought of her running along by herself."
Acting Senior Sergeant Rob Rackliffe said the girl was in reasonable spirits when found. "It doesn't look like she was scared or crying or anything, it looks like she was just on a mission."
When officers drove her along Opaki Rd she was able to point out her house. Her mother was found nearby soon after, "very upset, looking for the child".
She told police she had been out visiting friends, but had not meant to be away so long.
Child, Youth and Family central regional director Tania Harris said yesterday that the girl was now in the care of wider family.
CYF was working with them to ensure the girl was given adequate supervision. The agency was not involved with the family when the incident happened, she said.
Last month Richard Fletcher, 39, was convicted in Masterton District Court of leaving two children without supervision, then leaving a 23-month-old girl in his car outside a pub. He was also convicted of drink-driving and sentenced to eight months home detention.
In January, a Porirua mother drove for nearly 100 kilometres before realising her two children had hopped out of the van when she stopped at public toilets in Masterton.
Two girls found the children and took them to the Masterton police station, where they were cared for by staff until their mother returned.