Classifications Of A Case

Before a juvenile officer may take action on any kind of a case or referral which is received, it is vital that the juvenile officer examine the facts and allegations presented in the referral and classify the case as either:

(1) abuse/neglect,

(2) status or

(3) delinquency.

The reason this initial determination must be made is because different cases require different procedures and before knowing what procedures to follow, what time deadlines are applicable, and other important matters, the juvenile officer must know what type of case has been referred.

Abuse.  

Missouri law recognizes three types of abuse: (1) physical abuse, (2) sexual abuse and (3) emotional abuse. Section 210.110, RSMo.

In general terms, abuse denotes the commission of a wrongful or overt act upon the victim whereas neglect implies a deprivation or a failure to perform a duty related to the care and protection of a juvenile.

Physical Abuse.  

To prove a case of physical abuse, each of the following elements must be proven: (1) physical injury (2) inflicted on a child (3) other than by accidental means (4) by those responsible for the child’s care, custody and control. Section 210.110(1), RSMo.

The important points to keep in mind about this definition are that physical abuse requires actual physical injury.  Thus, striking a child which results in no physical injury, even if the act seems harsh, uncalled for or is ”shocking” does not constitute physical abuse under the statute.  In addition, discipline including spanking, administered in a reasonable manner, shall not be construed to be abuse.  Section 210.110(1), RSMo.  Finally, it is generally not necessary to prove that the parent or caretaker actually committed the abuse upon the child.  Proof that the child was physically abused while in the care, custody and control of the custodian is sufficient to permit a court to assume jurisdiction.  In Interest of E.J., 741 S.W.2d 892 (Mo.App.E.D. 1987).

Sexual Abuse.  

To prove sexual abuse, there must be proof of each of the following elements: (1) sexual abuse (2) inflicted on a child (3) other than by accidental means (4) by those responsible for the child’s care, custody and control. Section 210.110(1), RSMo.

The important point to note about sexual abuse, is that, unlike physical abuse, physical injury is not required.  In fact, much sexual abuse consists of fondling or oral/genital touching which does not leave marks, bruises or injuries.

A court is not required to wait for a child to be abused before the court intervenes.  Thus, a juvenile court petition states a cause of action, and is sufficient to support the exercise of jurisdiction over a child where a child is subjected to unsupervised contact with an individual, especially a parent, who has been convicted of sexually abusing another minor child.  In Interest of M.A.T., 934 S.W.2d 2 (Mo.App.W.D. 1996).  See also In Interest of T.B., 963 S.W.2d 252 (Mo.App.W.D. 1997).

Emotional Abuse.  

To prove a case of emotional abuse, there must be proof of each of the following elements: (1) emotional abuse (2) inflicted upon a child (3) other than by accidental means (4) by those responsible for the child’s care, custody and control. Section 210.110(1), RSMo.

The important points about emotional abuse are that it usually occurs over time and is not necessarily linked to a single act.  Emotional abuse must be established by either lay testimony of facts establishing the emotionally abusive acts as well as the impact of the emotionally abusive acts on the child, or by expert testimony.  In Interest of P.C., 62 S.W.3d 600 (Mo.App.W.D. 2001).

Evidence that a child had seen a doctor, was seeing a therapist, had ”psychological issues,” and had poor hygiene when the Children’s Division worker first saw the child is insufficient to establish emotional abuse in a case where the mother failed to provide the child with education provided by law.  In Interest of N.H., ED84498 (Mo.App.E.D. 2-1-2005).

At least one court has held that it is emotional abuse to potentially further expose a child victim to the perpetrator of the sexual abuse.  In a child protection order proceeding, the definition of abuse is substantially the same as the Chapter 210 definition.  The Western District, in Juvenile Officer v. Warner, WD63885 (Mo.App.W.D. 2-22-2005), held that sexual abuse results in emotional distress, and therefore, to further expose the child victim to the perpetrator creates a reasonable probability of further sexual abuse, and therefore a reasonable probability of further emotional abuse.  In Warner, the mother did not believe the allegations against father.  The court held there was substantial evidence supporting the order.

Neglect.  

To prove a case of neglect, there must be proof of each of the following elements: (1) failure to provide (2) by those responsible for the child’s care custody and control (3) proper or necessary support, education required by law, nutrition or medical, surgical or any other care necessary for the child’s well-being. Section 210.110(8), RSMo.

A dangerous situation is not required in order to assume jurisdiction over a child for neglect.  The only requirement is that there is a failure to supply the child with the minimum quality of care the community will tolerate.  In addition, a pattern of neglect is not necessary to assert jurisdiction for protection of a child.

When faced with a potentially harmful situation, the court need not wait until harm is done before the court can act.  At the risk of being wrong, the juvenile court is required to protect innocent children who cannot care for themselves.  The paramount concern is the welfare of the child which supercedes the preference for parental custody.  In Interest of G.C., 50 S.W.3d 408 (Mo.App.E.D. 2001).

In addition, the trial court may take jurisdiction over a child for past neglect even if there is no evidence of current neglect.  For example, evidence showing compliance during a following school year is irrelevant where the petition alleges educational neglect for the previous school year.  In Interest of J.B., 58 S.W.3d 575 (Mo.App.E.D. 2001).

Jurisdiction may also be properly assumed for neglect where the mother suffers from a mental illness which adversely affects her ability to parent a premature child.  In Interest of N.B., 64 S.W.3d 907 (Mo.App.S.D. 2002).

Jurisdiction is also properly assumed for neglect where a parent demonstrates erratic behavior as a result of the use of illegal drugs.  In Interest of B.T.O., 91 S.W.3d 745 (Mo.App.W.D. 2002).

Inadequate supervision can result in an administrative finding of neglect under the child abuse/neglect hotline law and therefore, it follows that inadequate supervision would also serve as a ground for assuming jurisdiction over a child for neglect.  Jane Doe v. Department of Social Services, 71 S.W.3d 648 (Mo.App.E.D. 2002).

Substantial evidence supported a finding of neglect in a de novo review proceeding from a  finding of neglect by the Child Abuse and Neglect Review Board after a hotline where a juvenile officer failed to give proper assistance to a juvenile who had been discovered to have attempted suicide and was found hanging by his neck.  Vaughn v. Missouri Department of Social Services, ED84172 (Mo.App.E.D. 4-19-2005).

Section 211.031.1(1), RSMo characterizes certain types of proceedings in which the juvenile court has exclusive original jurisdiction.  The first type is where the parents or other parents legally responsible for the care and support of the child or persons 17 years of age neglect or refuse to provide proper support, education which is required by law, medical, surgical or other care necessary for his or her well being.  Reliance by a parent, guardian or custodian upon remedial treatment other than medical or surgical treatment for a child or person 17 years of age shall not be construed as neglect when the treatment is recognized or permitted under the laws of this state.

Another type of case in which the juvenile court has exclusive original jurisdiction is where the child or person 17 years of age is otherwise without proper care, custody or support.

Another type of neglect cognizable by Section 211.031.1(1), RSMo is where the child or person 17 years of age was living in a room, building or other structure at the time such dwelling was found by a court of competent jurisdiction to be a public nuisance pursuant to Section 195.130, RSMo.

The final type of case cognizable under the abuse/neglect provisions of Section 211.031 is a case where the child or person 17 years of age is in need of mental health services, and the parent is unable to provide access to appropriate mental health services.  This section allows juvenile court intervention and assumption of jurisdiction in a case where the parent is unable to provide access to appropriate mental health services and the child or person 17 years of age is in need of such mental health services.  Section 211.031.1(1)(d), RSMo.

Status Offenses.  

There are only five status offenses in Missouri law.  They are defined in Section 211.031.1(2)(a)-(e), RSMo.  They are (1) truancy, (2) incorrigible, (3) runaway, (4) behavior/association injurious and (5) offenses applicable only to children.  

Truancy.  

To prove truancy, each of the following elements must be proven: (1) child (2) while subject to compulsory school attendance (3) is repeatedly (4) and without justification (5) absent from school. Section 211.031.1(2)(a), RSMo.

Compulsory school attendance is governed by Section 167.031, RSMo.  A parent or guardian is required to enroll his child in school if the child is between the ages of 7 and 16 years.  A child enrolled as early as age 5 is also subject to the compulsory school attendance law.  There are certain exceptions to the compulsory attendance law contained in section 167.031(1), (2) or (3), RSMo.  Those exceptions generally relate to mentally or physically incapacitated children, children between 14 and 16 years of age when legal employment has been obtained and the child is excused by the superintendent, and where a child between 5 and 7 years of age has been dropped from the school’s rolls as a result of a written request by the parent or guardian.

Incorrigible.  

To prove a case of incorrigibility, there must be proof of each of the following elements: (1) child (2) disobeys reasonable and lawful directions (3) of his parents or other custodian (4) and is beyond their control. Section 211.031.1(2)(b), RSMo.

Runaway.  

To prove runaway, there must be proof of each of the following elements: (1) child (2) is habitually absent from his home (3) without sufficient cause, permission or justification. Section 211.031.1(2)c), RSMo.

Behavior/Association Injurious.  

To prove this status offense, there must be proof of each of the following elements: (1) behavior or association (2) of the child (3) are otherwise injurious to his welfare or to the welfare of others.  Section 211.031.1(2)(d), RSMo.

Offenses Applicable Only to Children.  

To prove this status offense, there must be proof of each of the following elements: (1) child (2) is charged with an offense not classified as criminal (3) or with an offense applicable only to children. Section 211.031.1(2)(e), RSMo.

Delinquency.  

The term delinquency refers to the commission of acts which would be crimes if those acts were committed by adults.  To prove commission of a crime by a juvenile, the juvenile officer is required to prove each and every element of the offense to the same standard of proof as the state would be required to do if an adult were charged with the same offense. Section 211.031.1(3), RSMo.