Children's Court judge reacts to troubling CPS report

Judge Peter Sakai: 'If anything, we've seen children picked up'

By Jessie Degollado - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - Findings released Tuesday by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services show that thousands of children at risk of further abuse or neglect are not being checked on as required by the agency.

Children who are in immediate danger are “priority one” cases that must be seen within 24 hours. The wait is 72 hours for less urgent “priority two” cases.

Plagued by a massive financial shortfall, an overwhelming caseload and high turnover, investigators also have to contend with families who are hard to find once they know CPS is involved.

However, Children’s Court Judge Peter Sakai is defending the system in Bexar County. As an example, he cited a recent high profile case of two small children tied up and chained in a backyard last April, with their six siblings left alone in the house.

Sakai said they were two families who’d fled to San Antonio from California, where the child welfare agency was looking for them.

“I would speak well of our local system. Once that report came in, we got those kids,” Sakai said.

Sakai said they’re now safely in foster homes, while their parents await trial. He said they could be sentenced to life in prison if they’re convicted of injury to a child, serious bodily injury and child abandonment.

Sakai said from his perspective on the bench, “If anything, we’ve seen children picked up.”

The judge said the Children’s Court Division regularly monitors cases being handled by CPS by getting constant feedback, data and metrics.

“If I knew that it was a specific problem, then I would be having immediate discussion with local CPS leaders, coming up with solutions and remedies,” Sakai said.

He said despite the challenges, CPS in Bexar County does a good job staying in touch with the families.

Sakai said even so, “We need to do a better job in making sure we get these families contacted and hooked up with services.”

Annette Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Children’s Shelter, said she is hopeful the Department of Family and Protective Services will develop strategic plans “with a strong focus on prevention that will help families before a crisis arises and makes investigations necessary.”

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