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Girl taken from Auburn foster home in ‘dire’ condition

A girl stood at the makeshift memorial outside the home in Auburn.Harrison Hill for The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

AUBURN — A second toddler taken from a foster home where a 2-year-old died is in “dire” condition at a local hospital, an official said Tuesday evening, hours after investigators had returned to the home to search for more clues about the children’s home life.

Police on Tuesday executed a second search warrant at the home where a 2-year-old named Avalena and a 22-month-old girl were found unresponsive on Saturday.

It was not clear what investigators, who entered the home carrying small boxes and cameras, were searching for, but officials said investigators would be there through the night. As the search continued, new details continued to emerge, including a revelation that the foster mother had been granted a state waiver to care for more than the customary number of young foster children.


No one has been criminally charged in the death of the toddler, whose body has been released to her biological family, according to Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. Officials have not determined her cause of death.

The second toddler removed from the home remains in critical condition, Early said. “The situation is dire,” he said.

Neighbors, meanwhile, reported that the toddler who died and the 22-month-old girl who was removed from the home and hospitalized both suffered from an unusual rash in the days before the death, and a day after last being seen by a Department of Children and Families case worker.

“There were open sores. They were bleeding. It looked really, really bad,” said a neighbor who described herself as a close friend of the foster mother. The foster mother had come to her house to show her the sores Thursday, two days before the toddler’s death, she said.

Together, the foster mother and friend stood on the friend’s front porch and examined the two children. Dark red, open sores were covering their limbs, the friend said.


The foster mother had hypothesized that the girls caught a viral illness at day care, and was worried the condition was serious, the friend said. But the girls seemed unaffected.

“They were not agitated at all. They had no distress,” the neighbor said. “They were running around the yard.”

When the foster mother came to the neighbor for advice, the children had already been to a doctor, the neighbor said. Other neighbors on Pheasant Court echoed her account, saying that the foster mother had been concerned about a rash on the two girls that week.

The neighbor who saw the children, and the rash, said she did not know whether the foster mother took any medical steps after talking to neighbors.

“I had a great bond with Ava. I treated her like my own kid,” she said. “We met her the first day she got here and I just fell in love with her.”

The neighbor said the two little girls held hands as they walked back to the foster mother’s home that day.

The Globe is not naming the foster mother because she has not been charged with a crime. Neighbors also asked not to be identified because no charges had been filed.

A DCF spokeswoman declined to comment on the medical conditions of the children.

The agency confirmed Tuesday that the foster mother, who was approved as a foster parent last year, had been granted an “over-capacity waiver” to care for three foster children under the age of 3: Avalena, the 22-month-old, and a 6-month-old.


The foster mother was also caring for two older biological children — ages 15 and 11 — and a 9-year-old girl she had adopted. All of the children were removed from the home and taken into state custody. The 6-month-old was initially taken to a hospital as a precaution; the older children were all in good condition.

Before investigators cordoned off the area Tuesday, residents of Pheasant Court had added balloons, a poster, and personal notes to a memorial outside the home.

“Little love bug, you will be missed,” one neighbor wrote on the poster.

Paul Labonte, a neighborhood delivery man for 20 years, left yellow roses at the memorial. “It’s just tragic to see a little girl die,” Labonte said.

Before investigators returned to the home, neighbors spoke about how the incident is affecting the community.

The foster mother’s family was deeply involved in caring for the foster children, one neighbor said. The mother has four siblings, and her family was at the house just hours before the hospital was called, she said.

The foster mother’s boyfriend was also seen frequently at the home during the daytime, and officials disclosed Monday that he was not registered with DCF as a person having interaction with the family. Under state rules, foster parents must notify the department if anyone older than 15 is living, or spending significant time, in their home.


Early said Tuesday night that investigators have spoken with the foster mother’s boyfriend, who neighbors said also has relatives on the street. Early would not say whether the boyfriend was at the home at the time of Avalena’s death.

The Globe reported Tuesday that since 2008 police and emergency personnel recorded 28 calls to the foster home, reporting assaults, threats, breaking and entering, a domestic disturbance, and medical emergencies. In addition, authorities were called 35 times to two homes in Auburn where the foster mother lived between 2004 and 2008.

The state is reviewing the handling of Avalena’s case to see whether the Department of Children and Families could have done anything differently.

Governor Charlie Baker said Tuesday that 911 call records should be part of the state foster care certification process, an idea now under discussion after it was revealed that emergency responders had been called dozens of times to the foster mother’s home.

But Baker cautioned that such records may not tell the whole story. He said many calls from the Auburn home were made to report potential crimes. Baker said he does not favor “punishing people for doing that.”

Nonetheless, “it ought to be part of the process,” he said.

Baker reiterated Tuesday that he wants more information about the performance of the state agency in the Worcester region, where DCF has drawn criticism in several high-profile cases.

“I think the goal here should be that this doesn’t happen,” he said. “I think we should aspire to deliver on that.”


Michael Levenson and Andy Rosen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Astead W. Herndon can be reached at astead.herndon@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.