“A Child Unprotected”

Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje
San Antonio Express-News  
June 09, 2013 


For several years, San Antonio Express-News reporter Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje had examined the disproportionately high number of child deaths in the Bexar County area, which usually was partly blamed on inadequate funding of the state Child Protective Services. She didn’t stop at the explanation. As she began to dig deeper into problems within the state agency, Stoeltje came across Sarah Brasse, an 8-year-old girl who had died of acute appendicitis. Stoeltje discovered that repeated calls to CPS from several professionals concerned about Sarah’s condition had failed to stir the agency to send a caseworker to see her, despite CPS’ long history of investigating her father and stepmother for possible neglect.

Relying on transcripts, records, interviews and confidential information she uncovered, Stoeltje is the only person to tell Sarah’s story in full, going beyond what a jury knew when it found the father and stepmother guilty, convictions that would later be thrown out on appeal. Stoeltje documented the broken chain of caseworkers and supervisors, some short on experience or expertise, who were supposed to protect the girl and found that CPS avoided outside scrutiny by leaving the review of its actions after Sarah died to its own staff. Accompanying the account of Sarah’s long decline was another article by Stoeltje that showed CPS’ handling of her case was not a outlier but a symptom of chronic management problems that drove away experienced caseworkers and put children at further risk. In a subsequent interview with Stoeltje on June 23, the relatively new commissioner of the agency said he ordered an in-depth review of the Bexar County area CPS office and, among other actions, would do regular evaluations of employees, which Stoeltje reported had been lacking.

LINK to story online

Submitted by Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje.

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