Child Protective Services responds to questions related to child abuse case

Higgins was charged in another child abuse case in 2009 but acquitted by a jury in May 2010.

Child Protective Services responds to questions related to child abuse case

CREATED Jan 18, 2012

Reporter: Claire Doan
Web Producer: Chuck Meyer

KGUN9-TV (TUCSON) – KGUN9 News spoke with Child Protective Services Wednesday to get answers on a child abuse case that has family members distraught and angry.

The Flores family has been calling for change after a 1-year-old Za’naya died and her 3-year-old brother remains in the hospital in serious condition. Their mother 23-year-old Kiyana Higgins is in jail in connection with child abuse charges. Three other children under the age of 10 have been placed with CPS.

“They need to have a process where they can just follow up at least six months to a year after a child has returned to make sure they are safe and prevent what happened to Za’naya,” said Monica Lopez, the children’s paternal grandmother.

9 On Your Side took those concerns to CPS. Although spokespeople from the agency did not speak about the specifics of the case, citing an ongoing investigation, they did provide insight on how it works.

“When we hear about these deaths, it’s very tragic. But they’re not the vast majority of our system. We have so many children in our care right now. We do a very good job of trying to take care of the children who are in our system,” said Tasya Peterson, the director of communications for the Department of Economic Security, which oversees CPS.

KGUN9 News Reporter Claire Doan asked whether there are cases in which CPS makes mistakes or wish it could’ve done differently in hindsight.

“I think when something happens, there is an evaluation process so we can look at the situation to see what we could’ve done further,” Peterson responded.

Esther Kattas, a policy advisor for DES, said CPS works with different people, agencies and resources to decide if a child should stay in the home in assessing risk, with “safety as the paramount concern and mission.”

She said if there is reason for concern, they decide between in-home services to check up on the family or find an out-of-home safety plan – and check on the family until the case is closed. Furthermore, Kattas said it was both a subjective and objective process for the case worker. They have routine questions to assess risk, but experience allows them to delve further for more information.

Court documents show that a case worker did ask the state to end Higgins’ parental rights during her trial in May 2010 for child abuse charges. So KGUN9 News asked CPS what steps it takes to ensure safety, even after a parent is acquitted of child abuse.

The spokesperson wouldn’t answer and chose to respond with the following statement:

“Whether the Criminal Court makes a decision to acquit or release a person, the Juvenile Court operates under its own standards. In turn, dependency cases involving CPS are presented to the Juvenile Court and must meet the requirements under state and federal law to protect children and serve the best interests of the child. The child's health and safety are the paramount concerns when making permanency planning decisions and providing services and are not dictated by the decision of a Criminal Court.”

Funeral services for Za’naya will be held at 8:30 Thursday morning at Martinez Funeral Chapel, which is helping the family out for free. Burial services will be at 11:30am at Holy Hope cemetery. Both are open to the public.