D.C. Commissioner of Social Services Audrey Rowe said her department erred in stating Wednesday that it had a regulation forbidding more than two infants in a foster care home. Rowe said this practice is a guideline in the process of being adopted as policy.

District officials violated city regulations by placing too many infants in a foster home where a Sunday morning blaze killed five persons, including three infants and a 2-year-old.

Regina Bernard, director of the Department of Human Services' foster care program, confirmed that under department regulations only two infants can be placed in each foster home. But on March 7, a social worker placed a third infant, 3-week-old Paul Holmes, with foster parent Frances P. Walker.

He joined 5-month-old twins the city had placed in the home four months earlier, a 2-year-old former foster child adopted by Walker in January and an 8-year-old foster child.

"Sometimes emergencies overrule the regulations," said Bernard. "That child was clearly a temporary placement. That child would have been moved."

Paul Holmes' parents said they are considering legal action against the city for their son's death.

City Social Service Commissioner Audrey Rowe said the parents voluntarily gave up the infant after the city received a referral indicating there could be a problem with neglect. The parents then sued to have the baby returned, Rowe said.

On March 18, a D.C. Superior Court judge issued an order to allow the city to continue sheltering the child until a second hearing, which was scheduled for Tuesday. The parents said they visited the child twice in city offices after they agreed to give him up for 90 days.

An early morning fire that destroyed Walker's home killed all three infants, as well as her 2-year-old son and a 55-year-old friend of the family who was watching the children while Walker was on a weekend church trip in Pennsylvania. The fourth foster child, 8-year-old Maria Marshall, remains in critical condition at D.C. General Hospital.

The girl's vital functions are being maintained by life support equipment and a dispute has arisen between her natural mother and the city as to who is responsible for the decision whether to continue life support efforts, according to Rowe.

Rowe said the girl is a ward of the city, as the city had obtained an court order for emergency care for the girl. "Her mother is concerned about who has final say," Rowe said, adding that the corporation counsel is researching the issue. The girl had lived in Walker's home since January 1984.

An official of the Child Welfare League, a national standard-setting group, said it urges states not to place more than two children under 2 years of age in one foster home and advises that foster parents, rather than baby sitters, care for foster children. Rowe said, however, the latter standard would exclude working parents, and thus limit the age and diversity of foster parents available to the city.

Bernard said yesterday that the third infant was placed with Walker because of her past success in caring for infants.