BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker said the case of a 2-year-old girl who died in foster care days after welfare workers visited her home and found her in good health has his highest priority and the state is launching its own internal investigation.
Officials said the Department of Children and Families visited the foster home three days before the girl's death but did not disclose the reason for the visit.
Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. said the girl's foster mother called 911 on Saturday afternoon. He said the 2-year-old girl and a 22-month-old girl were discovered unresponsive at the apartment in Auburn, 45 miles west of Boston.
The older girl died at a hospital. The younger girl remains in critical condition.
An autopsy has been completed, but the incident remains under investigation by law enforcement officials, and a cause of death hasn't been released.
Baker, a Republican, described the death as tragic, particularly coming after the case of a Hardwick man charged last month with starving and beating his 7-year-old son, who remains in a long-term care facility.
"It's all hands on deck with respect to determining the cause and the circumstances around the tragedy that took place in Auburn," Baker said Monday. "This has my highest priority, believe me."
The Department of Children and Families said six children lived in the apartment and three of them were the mother's children, who were taken into state care. The third foster child was hospitalized as a precaution.
Officials said the apartment has been licensed as a foster home since last year and six other foster children had previously lived there. No criminal charges have been filed.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said Monday that her office has begun an internal investigation.
"It is extraordinarily important for us to understand what has happened in this matter in order to see if there are any improvements that we need to make to ensure that the 47,000 children who come into the care and custody of the department have every ability to thrive," she said.
Sudders said since December 2013 there has been a 30 percent increase in the cases being handled by the DCF, the highest ever.
Auburn police Chief Andrew Sluckis Jr. said the mother is "very familiar" to police. The Telegram & Gazette in Worcester reported that Sluckis said police had been to the apartment several times for incidents including domestic issues and an identity theft case in which the tenants were victims.
Officials have not released any names, but David Coxon told The Boston Globe he learned his granddaughter had died after a DCF official called him Saturday night.
Coxon, 69, said his granddaughter was placed in foster care after her mother, Jessica Conway, was sentenced to a year in prison. He said Conway is completing a residential drug rehabilitation program.
Conway, 27, told the Boston Herald she was devastated by her daughter's death and was working hard to regain custody.
"I will never see her smile again," a tearful Conway said. "I will never be able to hold my daughter again, and it's because of this foster home."