SAN ANTONIO – Last March, Bexar County courts shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but many reopened virtually to keep the justice system moving along.
The Children’s Court Division made quick moves to make sure they were able to continue hearing cases.
“Children’s court was pretty seamless. We had to be because what’s at stake when you’re talking about the safety and welfare of children,” Children’s Court Associate Judge Charles Montemayor.
Montemayor has been hearing cases in the Children’s Court since 2005 and, at first, had no idea how the pandemic would affect his docket.
“It’s been challenging, but I think it’s a real compliment to the community and see how everyone responded,” Montemayor said.
Everything from court hearings, therapy sessions to adoption ceremonies went virtual. And the change actually ended up resulting in an increase in parent participation.
“I guess just kind of the obstacle of going to the courthouse and sometimes the traveling that needs to be done for counseling and getting the services they need was relieved in a slight way because of the ability to do video participation,” Montemayor said.
That parent participation led to 541 reunifications and the courts also took custody of fewer children in 2020 compared to 2019.
Another positive result, the adoption rate in Region 8, which includes Bexar County, continued to be the highest in the state.
“Some unintended benefits we had is that family members could participate in virtual adoption ceremonies from across the nation,” Montemayor said “It’s been a nice benefit to the unfortunate circumstance we find ourselves in, but we miss the interaction with families.”
In-person adoption ceremonies will take place again whenever the courtroom opens back up but some changes that were made during the pandemic will probably be kept in place since they proved successful.
“It’s already being discussed how we’re going to incorporate what we’ve learned from the current situation with what we’ve done in the past to incorporate the personal touch,” Montemayor said.
As of right now, there is still no date set as to when the courts will reopen.