When Child Neglect Becomes a Crime: Missouri’s Legal System Explained

Missouri child neglect laws aim to protect children from abuse and neglect by defining what constitutes neglect and outlining the penalties for those found guilty of neglecting a child. 

In Missouri, child neglect is defined as “the failure to provide, by those responsible for the care, custody, and control of the child, the proper or necessary support, education as required by law, nutrition or medical, surgical, or any other care necessary for the child’s well-being.” 

Child neglect can be physical, financial, educational, medical, or emotional. 

What is Considered Child Neglect under Missouri Law?

In Missouri, child neglect is defined as the failure to provide a child with the necessary care, support, or education required for the child’s health, morals, or well-being. Child neglect can take various forms, including:

  • Failing to provide adequate food, clothing, or shelter.

  • Failing to provide medical care or necessary treatment for injuries or illness.

  • Failing to provide education or neglecting to enroll a child in school.

  • Leaving a child unattended or without supervision for an extended period.

  • Exposing a child to dangerous or harmful situations, such as domestic violence or drug abuse.

What is The Role of the Missouri Division of Children’s Services in Child Abuse? 

When law enforcement officials or mandatory reporters become aware of a potential child neglect or abuse case, they must report it to the Missouri Children’s Division, which is responsible for investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect. 

The Children’s Division has a 24/7 hotline that anyone can call to report suspected cases of abuse or neglect.  If you suspect a child is in danger, call the Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-392-3738.

Once a report is made, the Children’s Division investigates whether the allegations are true. If the investigation finds neglect or abuse has occurred, the case will be referred to the Missouri Juvenile Court System.

The Juvenile Court System determines whether a child needs care and protection. If the court finds that a child has been neglected or abused, it can order the child to be removed from the home and placed in protective custody. 

The court may also order the parents or caregivers to participate in counseling or other services to address the issues that led to the neglect or abuse.

In cases where neglect or abuse is severe, criminal charges will likely be filed against the parents or caregivers responsible for the child’s welfare. These charges can include child endangerment, child abuse, or neglect of a child.

Who Is Required By Law to Report Child Abuse in Missouri? 

In Missouri, the following professionals are considered mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect:

  • Teachers and school officials.

  • Healthcare workers.

  • Mental health professionals.

  • Social workers.

  • Childcare providers.

  • Foster parents.

  • Law enforcement officers.

  • Clergy members.

  • Coaches and other youth sports personnel.

  • Medical examiners or coroners.

If any of these individuals have reasonable cause to believe that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect, they are required by law to report it to the appropriate authorities. Failure to do so can result in legal penalties.

When Does Child Neglect Become a Crime in Missouri?

In Missouri, child neglect becomes a crime when it reaches a severe level. It can be considered a crime when a child is harmed or at risk of being harmed due to neglect. 

The severity level depends on various factors, such as the child’s age, the type of neglect, the duration, and the physical or emotional harm caused.

Penalties for Neglecting a Child in Missouri

Neglecting a child in Missouri is a criminal offense, and the penalties can be severe. 

The punishment’s severity depends on the neglect, the child’s age, and the caregiver’s criminal history.

Here are the possible penalties for child neglect in Missouri:

  • Class D Felony: Punishable by up to seven (7) years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. For child abuse cases, if a defendant is convicted, they will not be eligible for probation, parole, or conditional release until they have served no less than one (1) year of such sentence. 

  • Class B Felony: Punishable by imprisonment for a term not less than five (5) years, not exceeding fifteen (15) years, and a fine not exceeding $20,000. For child abuse cases where the defendant has a prior conviction for child abuse or when the injury inflicted on the child is a serious emotional injury or a serious physical injury. If convicted, the defendant is not eligible for probation or parole until the defendant has served not less than five (5) years of the sentence.

  • Class A Felony: If the child dies due to abandonment, the offense is elevated to a class A felony. A class A felony is imprisonment for a term of not less than ten (10) years and not to exceed thirty (30) years or life imprisonment life). If convicted, the defendant is not eligible for probation or parole until the defendant has served not less than fifteen (15) years of the sentence.

If a child is seriously injured or dies due to neglect, the caregiver may be charged with child abuse or even manslaughter or murder.

How to Report Child Neglect in Missouri

If you suspect a child is being neglected, it is crucial to report it to the appropriate authorities. 

In Missouri, you can report suspected child neglect to the Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline by calling 1-800-392-3738 or filing a report online at https://dss.mo.gov/cd/can.htm

You can also report child neglect to your local law enforcement agency or child protective services.

When reporting child neglect, provide as much information as possible, including the child’s name, age, address, caregiver name, contact information, and any details about the neglect. 

Reporting suspected child neglect can be anonymous, and Missouri law protects those who report child neglect in good faith from any liability.


Q. What is the difference between child neglect and child abuse in Missouri?

A. Child neglect is the failure to provide for a child’s basic needs, while child abuse involves intentionally causing physical, emotional, or sexual harm to a child. Both are criminal offenses in Missouri.

Q. What happens if I am accused of neglecting a child in Missouri?

If you are accused of neglecting a child in Missouri, you will likely face criminal charges. It is crucial to seek legal representation to defend yourself against these charges as soon as possible.

Q. Can a child be removed from my care if I am accused of neglect in Missouri?

Yes, if you are accused of neglecting a child, the court will likely remove the child from your care and place them with a relative, foster family, or in state custody.

Q. Can I lose custody of my child for neglecting them in Missouri?

Yes, if you are found guilty of neglecting your child in Missouri, you will likely lose custody of your child permanently or temporarily.


When child neglect reaches a severe level in Missouri, it can be considered a crime. The legal system protects the child’s well-being and holds the neglectful caregiver accountable. 

The legal system involves several agencies and steps, including reporting, investigation, juvenile court, criminal charges, and child protection services.

It is important to be aware of the signs of child neglect and abuse and report any suspicions to the Children’s Division. By working together, we can help prevent child neglect and provide a safe and nurturing environment for all children.

Remember, when child neglect becomes a crime, Missouri’s legal system protects the child and holds the caregiver accountable.

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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