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Toddler found dead in Yarmouth home

Judge had given child to relatives

YARMOUTH — A 23-month-old boy was discovered dead in his home Thursday, several months after a judge ordered his removal from a foster home and placed him with relatives over objections from the state Department of Children and Families, according to law enforcement and state officials.

The child, who law enforcement authorities said suffered from physical and emotional problems, was found unresponsive about 8:20 a.m. by the two adults who cared for him on Winslow Gray Road. Yarmouth police and firefighters tried unsuccessfully to revive the boy at the home before he was transported to Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis.

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A cause of death had not been determined by Thursday evening, according to Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe. “A preliminary investigation did not disclose any sign of trauma to the child,’’ O’Keefe said.

The boy, the child of substance abusers, was born addicted to opiates and had been monitored by the Department of Children and Families since birth, O’Keefe said. The child had not been publicly identified until family could be notified.

The toddler, who lived with his 3-year-old sister, had stayed briefly in a foster home before a judge ordered him removed last year and placed in the custody of relatives, according to Alec Loftus, spokesman for the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

“DCF opposed removing the child from the foster home,” Loftus said in an e-mailed statement. “DCF continued to provide supportive services to the family after the relatives took custody.”

Loftus did not provide details on why the child welfare agency wanted the boy to remain in the foster home. The judge’s order was issued in November, O’Keefe said.

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“The Department of Children and Families is deeply saddened by the loss of this young child,” Loftus said.

On the same day of the toddler’s death, a bipartisan group of legislators called on DCF Commissioner Olga Roche to resign. In a letter detailing their concerns, the lawmakers cited the case of Jeremiah Oliver, the Fitchburg 5-year-old who is missing and feared dead after social workers failed to keep track of him.

“We agree that enough is enough. It is time for Governor Patrick to do the right thing and ask for Olga Roche’s resignation,” said Representative Ryan Fattman, a Republican from Webster who was one of more than 20 Republicans and Democrats to sign the letter to the governor.

O’Keefe said the boy had been monitored by two Cape Cod social service agencies. One of the agencies conducted a home visit Monday and declared the child to be “well,’’ the district attorney said.

DCF has taken custody of the older sibling while the boy’s death is under investigation, the district attorney said in a phone interview. “There are just a lot of sad circumstances about this whole matter,’’ O’Keefe said.

The house where the boy was found, a shingled Cape set behind a dozen tall pine trees on a busy road east of Hyannis, was quiet with no obvious sign of police activity as a hard rain fell Thursday afternoon.

Several neighbors said they did not know the family. Dave Withers and Christine Vaughan said they watched an ambulance arrive about 8:30 a.m. and saw paramedics carry a child who looked limp and unresponsive out of the house.

“It was very upsetting,” Vaughan said.

Withers said he had seen police visit the house once last year but did not know why . He said he had previously seen the children with an older woman.

The death of the Yarmouth toddler comes at a time of scrutiny of the child welfare agency. Two months ago, DCF officials acknowledged that for at least seven months the agency had lost track of the 5-year-old Fitchburg boy, now presumed dead, whose family was under the supervision of the agency.

Last week, a 9-year-old Mattapan boy was shot to death, allegedly by his troubled older brother. DCF had apparently sought custody of the older brother before the shooting, but was rejected by a judge who authorizes custody decisions.

Since the start of the year, DCF’s oversight of 34,000 neglected and abused children has been the focus of State House hearings and investigations. Although critics have called for Roche to resign, her defenders say she cannot be blamed for each tragedy that erupts in families in which poverty, mental illness, and substance abuse are common.

Patricia Wen and Michael Levenson of the Globe staff and Globe Correspondent Jacqueline Tempera contributed to this report.

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