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April 29, 2014

Child welfare chief resigns after kids' deaths

BOSTON (AP) — The embattled head of Massachusetts' child welfare agency resigned Tuesday under mounting pressure following the deaths of three children, with Gov. Deval Patrick saying it was impossible for her to continue in the job.

Olga Roche's resignation comes after calls from top Democratic lawmakers — including Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray — for Roche to be replaced as commissioner of the Department of Children and Families.

"I have accepted her resignation because I believe it is not possible for the agency to move forward in this environment with her at the helm," said John Polanowicz, secretary of the state's Executive Office of Health and Human Services, which oversees the DCF.

The agency named Erin Deveney as its interim commissioner. She has been working there for about 30 days following a stint at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Authorities say the family of a 2-week old Fitchburg baby who died over the weekend was being monitored by state child welfare officials. In the second case, a DCF spokeswoman says a fax from Grafton police about possible harm to a 4-week-old who later died was misplaced for six days.

The body of a third child, 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver of Fitchburg, was found off a highway in central Massachusetts this month. Jeremiah's family was also under DCF supervision at the time of his disappearance.

Patrick, who had earlier defended Roche, said Tuesday that Roche had offered to resign previously, but he had not accepted it. The governor said it was clear now that Roche had the expertise to do her job but no longer had the support of the public or her staff.

"I don't think the time is right, but it's necessary," he said. "She cannot garner the confidence of the public or her line staff."

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