Massachusetts governor vows full probe of foster child's death

Jan 9, 2015; Boston, USA; Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker speaks to the media about the USOC selecting Boston as its applicant city to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games during a press conference at the Boston Convention Center and Exhibition Center. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

By Jacqueline Tempera

BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker on Monday vowed a full investigation into how a toddler died over the weekend at a state-licensed foster home, in the latest black eye for the state's child custody system.

The 2-year-old girl was found dead and a 22-month-old child discovered unresponsive by police in Auburn, in central Massachusetts, on Saturday after her foster mother called 911. County prosecutors are investigating the circumstances.

​"My heart goes out as a father to the foster mom and to the mom and to the family involved in this most recent tragedy," Baker told reporters. "We want to know what happened."

Baker ordered investigators to complete their probe of the death of Avalena Conway-Coxon by the end of September "so we can start making recommendations" on how to improve services at the state's Department of Children and Families.

The dead child's godmother, Hillary Dumas, said in an interview on Monday that a recent visit with the girl had left her family worried about her well-being.

"Her hair was filthy. And she wouldn't let go of this doll that was covered in dirt," Dumas said. "Why was she living like that?"

Little is known about the circumstances of the child's death. Officials said they were testing the air quality inside the foster home, and that an autopsy had been completed but no conclusions yet made as to the cause of death.

The younger child remains in critical condition, said Paul Jarvey, a spokesman for the Worcester County District Attorney's Office.

The foster home was licensed in 2014. Case workers last visited the home on Aug. 12, three days before the child died, officials said.

"The Department of Children and Families is devastated by the loss of a child," said spokeswoman Andrea Grossman in a statement.

Six children lived in the home, including three foster children, according to officials.

A series of deaths involving children under the department's supervision has led to calls for reform.

Last year, a 5-year-old boy was found dead after state workers had missed some monthly checks on him following reports of neglect.

In December, state officials removed four children from a vermin-infested home without at first realizing that the remains of three dead infants were hidden in a closet.

A 7-year-old child being monitored by the agency fell into a coma last month after, officials contend, being starved and beaten by his father.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Mohammad Zargham)