By Colleen Quinn and Michael Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- Yarmouth and State Police are investigating the death of a 2-year-old boy who was previously placed in a foster home by the Department of Children and Families and then moved into the custody of relatives, according to a spokesman for DCF.
At approximately 8:20 a.m. Thursday, Yarmouth police and firefighters responded to a call for an unresponsive child at 320 Winslow Gray Road in West Yarmouth. Firefighters attempted CPR, and transported the boy to Cape Cod Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to Yarmouth Police Deputy Chief Steven Xiarhos.
Police said the death is still under investigation, and would not say who was in the home when the child was found.
The child had "briefly" been placed in a foster home by DCF officials, but was removed from that home by a judge last year, according to Alec Loftus, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
"DCF opposed removing the child from the foster home. The judge instead placed the child in the custody of relatives," Loftus said in a statement. "DCF continued to provide supportive services to the family after the relatives took custody."
State Child Advocate Gail Garinger, whose office oversees children involved with state agencies to ensure they are protected from harm and receive state services, said just before noon that her office just learned about the death a few minutes ago.
"My reaction is any child death is a tragedy. We obviously want to learn more about what happened," she told the News Service.
The Department of Children and Families is under heavy scrutiny on Beacon Hill on the heels of its mishandling of the case of a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy, Jeremiah Oliver, who is feared dead and subsequent reports of foster parents with criminal records, social workers who are not licensed, and the state's poor ranking for child welfare.
Republican candidate for governor Charles Baker and several House Republican lawmakers have called for DCF Commissioner Olga Roche to resign. Gov. Deval Patrick, Roche's boss, has stood by her work and efforts to improve the agency's performance, citing the difficult and complex nature of many DCF cases. Patrick also defended DCF's work with the family of a 9-year-old Mattapan boy accidentally shot and killed by his teen brother.
The House Post Audit and Oversight Committee is looking into DCF.
During a WBZ-AM interview Tuesday night, committee chairman Rep. David Linsky (D-Natick) said the panel has requested information on about 500 foster parents with criminal records to determine the nature of their crimes.
The Natick Democrat noted that his panel has been especially busy this session, with examinations of drug evidence tampering at a state crime lab, state oversight in the wake of deaths stemming from tainted steroid from a Framingham compounding pharmacy, and the panel's current exploration of the children and families agency.
Linsky declined to call for Roche's resignation, saying he wanted to focus on his committee's investigation and emphasizing the House planned to eventually pass measures to help "fix" the department.
The House on Wednesday approved a spending bill that included $2.8 million for the Department of Children and Families as a down-payment to begin hiring 150 new social workers who will help reduce caseloads from 18 to 15 families per caseworker.
"Every single member has been deeply troubled by reports relative to the agency," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill) said.