After a five-week sentencing hearing, a former Santa Barbara daycare operator and parent was finally sentenced to a year in prison last Friday for abusing and neglecting her four foster children – three of which she kept in cages.

Foster parent Sylvia Vasquez pleaded no contest to the four felony charges as part of a deal with Santa Barbara Judge Frank Ochoa, stipulating that the defendant spend no more than a year behind bars in county jail, with six months already served. She will face an additional nine years of probation for her crimes, which include injecting one child with a puberty-blocking hormone and forcing others to urinate and defecate in plastic buckets.

The deal was made despite strong objections from county prosecutor Joyce Dudley, who urged for a maximum sentence of 10 years. Throughout the hearing, Dudley portrayed Vasquez as a mean-spirited, violent, neglectful foster parent who – despite the lack of care she provided to her adopted children – received $173,637 from the state for her eight years of services. Dudley also claimed Vasquez inflicted psychological damage to her foster children by punishing them with cold early morning showers and lengthy homework assignments in which they were to detail their shortcomings.

Defense attorney Robert Sanger countered Dudley’s arguments by claiming that the children were exceedingly difficult. Sanger alleged that the foster children were sexually aggressive and violent, which led to Vasquez’s decision to lock them up in cages. Vasquez claimed her now-15-year-old son allegedly sexually assaulted and killed the family cat, and that the older daughter allegedly sexually abused her younger sister with a baby bottle.

An investigation was originally launched in January 2006 when neighbors alerted authorities of Vasquez’s misconduct at her residence on Foothill Road. Neighbors claimed that Vasquez was physically and emotionally abusing her foster children, who were ages six, nine, 12 and 13 at the time. After investigating, authorities reported that the six-year-old was living in a three-by-five fenced-in area of a bedroom, and the 12- and 13-year-old boys also were locked in makeshift cages, covered in urine and feces. The nine-year-old girl reportedly lived in an average, clean bedroom.