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Three DCF Workers Assigned To Auburn Foster Home Were Unlicensed

AUBURN (CBS/AP) — Three DCF case workers who working with the foster home in Auburn were unlicensed, DCF officials said.

Two of the unlicensed workers were assigned to the two children who were found unresponsive in the home on Saturday. DCF officials said one of the workers was retiring and the other two were slated to take their licensing exams.

Officials say state child welfare workers visited the Auburn foster home of a 2-year-old girl three days before her death, but did not disclose the reason for the visit or what was found.

Investigators have not said how 2-year-old Avalena Conway-Coxon died and a second young girl ended up in critical condition Saturday.

A makeshift memorial of stuffed animals, candles and flowers now sits outside the apartment complex on Pheasant Court where the two little girls were found after their foster mother called 911.

Stuffed animals, candles and flowers now sit outside the apartment complex on Pheasant Court. (WBZ-TV)

When emergency officials arrived, they found Avalena unconscious and performed CPR. She was pronounced dead a short time later at a local hospital. An autopsy was performed Sunday, but it's not clear when the results will be released.

Worcester County District Attorney Joe Early said life-saving measures were performed on the second girl, also about 2 years old, who remained in "very critical" condition. He said the foster mother is cooperating with authorities.

A third foster child and the woman's three biological children also lived in the home. They are in the custody of the state Department of Children and Families. Early said they showed no obvious signs of abuse.

DCF spokeswoman Andrea Grossman said in a statement that the agency is working with law enforcement officials and also is conducting its own investigation.

The agency has not had any problems with the foster mother since she was licensed in March 2014, Health and Human Services Sec. Marylou Sudders said.

Early called the situation "a very difficult case." He said air quality tests were done at the home and carbon monoxide poisoning has been ruled out.

Investigators at a foster home in Auburn where a child died Aug. 15, 2015. (WBZ Photo)

Avalena's biological mother, Jessica Conway, is a recovering drug addict who lost custody of her daughter and was working to get her back.

"Something has to be done," Conway told WBZ-TV. "The governor really needs to get involved here because another child has died in DCF custody."

"I have never figured that this would happen to us, but it can happen to anyone and that's what scares me," Conway's father, David Coxon, told WBZ NewsRadio 1030.

Coxon said his granddaughter was placed in foster care because Conway was in an addiction recovery program and had spent time in prison.

"I'm getting a little tired of all these children that we're losing with DCF on their watch. They don't seem to be doing much to be for children and families as far as I'm concerned," he said.

Jessica Conway
Jessica Conway and her daughter Avalena. (Family photo)

Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday in a press conference with DCF officials that it was "all hands on deck" to figure out the cause of the foster child's death.

"The death of any child is a tragedy," Baker said. "We plan to continue to get to the bottom of these and to make the changes that need to be made so this doesn't happen going forward."

The foster mother's name has not been released. Neighbors told WBZ-TV they trusted her to babysit their own children and that she was a good mother.

DCF said the apartment has been licensed as a foster home since 2014 and that six other foster children had previously lived there.

Police told WBZ-TV they knew foster mother, but they wouldn't elaborate on what that meant.

However, according to court records, police had been called to her home 30 times since 2008.

There have been no arrests at this point in the investigation, and no one in DCF has been disciplined.

Officials also noted that DCF has seen a 30-percent increase in caseloads since 2013, partly due to the increasing problem of opioid addiction in the state.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Karen Twomey reports

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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