SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -

A couple from Springfield are charged with child abuse because prosecutors believe a 4-year-old girl was malnourished over a long period last fall.  Kaylah Hill, 25, and Dustin Richard, 29, were charged on Friday based on an investigation by the State Children’s Division that started in November and an investigation by Springfield police that started on Dec. 26.

According to the probable cause statement, medical staff at a hospital called police after the girl was treated at the emergency room and then admitted. Doctors said she was malnourished, had many abrasions and wasn’t clean.

Later, doctors diagnosed her with kwashiorkor, a muscle atrophy caused by protein malnourishment; impetigo, a skin infection; and cellulitis, a swelling of her stomach and hands that could have killed her if it was left untreated. They said her malnourishment was the result of several months of not having enough good food.  They said her health improved after she got adequate nourishment at the hospital.

Investigators interviewed a 7-year-old boy who was in the couple’s house. His hunger – he would eat “three or four breakfasts and lunch at school as he claimed to not get food at his mother’s house,” according to the probable cause statement – is what caused the Children’s Division to started investigating in November.

The Children’s Division investigators went to the home at 1521 W. Florida St. several times but couldn’t talk to Richard because she wouldn’t answer the door.  When they did get in the home, the 4-year-old girl wasn’t there and the investigators believed the couple was hiding her.

Investigators talked to the 7-year-old boy, who once said he was told to lie about conditions at the house and another time wouldn’t answer questions.

After the girl was treated at the hospital, the Children’s Division and police placed her in protective custody and removed the boy from the home.  Later, they removed four other children from the home.

In January, investigators talked to the boy, who said his mother would hit his sister and hurt her.  He said his parents withheld food from them when they got in trouble.  He said he got in trouble for telling his dad what happened to him at his mother's house, where she lived with Richard.

Police interviewed Hill and Richard, with their attorney present, in January.  They blamed the girl’s malnutrition on hand, foot and mouth disease and impetigo, which she had earlier in 2013.  They said cuts and bruises were from falling down a hill and a stairway.  They said they didn’t know why the girl had injuries on her feet and neck, according to the probable cause statement.

Richard also said he didn't know how much each child was eating because they would scrape off their plates after meals, and they were caring for eight children in the home.  He said he came home from work each day at 6 and fixed supper.  He also said the 4-year-old girl was mischievous and would eat junk food, so they had to put locks on the food cabinets.

Hill and Richard both were in the Greene County jail on Monday in lieu of $25,000 bonds. They each face two counts of child abuse or neglect and one count of first-degree child endangerment.   If convicted, they could face seven-year sentences for each crime.