State probing adoption of dead toddler

Date: 2002-08-17

State probing adoption of dead toddler

Questions arise on screening, follow-up procedures

JESSICA FARGEN and DARRYL ISHERWOOD
The Patriot Ledger

BRAINTREE - The death of a Russian-born 2-year-old was ruled a homicide Friday and the state is now trying to determine whether Natalia and Louis Higier's out-of-state adoption of the child eight months ago was legal.

Zachary Higier's mother is accused of abusing him and throwing him or dropping him so hard that he suffered massive brain injuries and died.
The case has left some social workers questioning the screening process and follow-up procedures of the adoption agency that told the state the Higiers were fit parents.

Natalia Higier, a 47-year-old Latvian native, says she found her son lying motionless on the kitchen floor Tuesday morning, but prosecutors say the child appears to have been thrown against a wall. Higier pleaded innocent
Thursday to charges of manslaughter and assault.

On Thursday, Judge Mark Coven ordered Higier held in lieu of $100,000 cash bail. She will be back in court on Monday to ask that her bail be reduced. An autopsy completed Friday showed that the baby died of head injuries. The death was ruled a homicide. The child died Thursday morning.

The couple adopted the Russian-born boy in December through the Frank Adoption Center in Raleigh, N.C. The agency, which specializes in Russian adoptions, has settled one lawsuit and won another brought by adoptive parents who said they did not receive adequate medical information about the children.

The state Department of Child Care Services will investigate to make sure that the Frank Adoption Center used a Massachusetts-licensed adoption agency to conduct the home study and background as required by state law, said department spokeswoman Kate Arsenault.

The Higiers were evaluated by Laura Nemeyer of Adoption Resource Associates in Cambridge, a licensed adoption agency in the state, according to a statement released by Frank Adoption Center Friday. Nemeyer was unavailable for comment Friday.

The check, among other things, included physical and mental health information and criminal background checks of the parents, a visit to their home and evaluation of their capability as parents, according to the statement.

''This family was very well-suited to adopt a child,'' said Pamela Deese, counsel for the center. Although they passed muster before becoming parents, a baby sitter told
prosecutors that Zachary showed signs of past abuse and that his mother used to get upset when he would not eat his food.

Joyce Maguire Pavao, director of the Center for Family Connections in Cambridge, said that often parents who adopt foreign children may not be
prepared to take care of a child who may have been abandoned or malnourished or lived in an orphanage.

She said that makes screening and follow-up visits that much more important because the child may not be what a parent expected.

''Any 2-year-old child is difficult, but the 2-year old who has had such a traumatic beginning is going to be worse,'' Pavao said. ''This is much more about the lack of screening and assessment that's done on preadoptive parents.''

The state requires that the adoption agency visit the home at least once after the adoption, Pavao said.

Higier was arrested Wednesday, but showed more interest in the well-being of her dog than her dying son, a prosecutor said Thursday. The couple, who live at 100 Beech St., Braintree, have no history with the Department of Social Services. They do have a limited history of domestic violence.

In 1995, Higier took out a restraining order against her husband, but dropped it a day later. Her husband, Louis, had also taken out a restraining order against his wife in the past.
Louis Higier, in a statement released late Friday, said he was ''absolutely devastated'' by his son's death and is cooperating with authorities.

''I hope that the charges are not true, and that there is some other explanation for our horrible loss,'' he said.

Jessica Fargen may be reached at jfargen@ledger.com
Copyright 2002 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Saturday, August 17, 2002

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