CENTER MORICHES, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Countless questions remain into the death of Thomas Valva, an 8-year-old boy on Long Island, and now an internal investigation has begun to whether the Department of Social Services failed him.
How did this fall through the cracks?
Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone tells CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan he pledges a top-to-bottom internal probe of how his county’s Department of Social Services handled Thomas Valva’s case.
The 8-year-old died of hypothermia after being forced to sleep in an unheated garage while in the custody of Michael Valva, his NYPD father who is being charged with his son’s murder.
“I think you have somebody in this case who obviously knew how to work the system, how to manipulate, and we have to look at whether there’s some implicit bias there when you’re dealing with a police officer,” Bellone said.
A Polish-American mom in Valley Stream, who represented herself in court while fighting for custody of their three sons, versus her powerfully perceived NYPD husband from Center Moriches and his legal team.
“That death was preventable. I kept filing numerous, numerous complaints, reports,” Justyna Zubko-Valva, Thomas’ mother, said.
Zubko-Valva documented her case for almost three years, even posting video and audio recordings on social media, but she says her estranged husband and his fiancee, Angela Pollina, convinced CPS and judges that Zubko-Valva was unstable.
The couple was granted custody of Pollina’s three daughters and Valva’s three sons.
“Abusers are known to manipulate the court system in their favor,” child abuse expert Anthony Zenkus said.
Zenkus, who trains family court judges and investigates child abuse complaints, says CPS is “absolutely” overwhelmed and understaffed.
He says the county and state need better training and increased staffing.
“This father, if he’s an abuser, is calm, cool and collected, and judges that are better trained will be able to pick up on that dynamic,” he said.
Thomas’ elementary school filed reports.
“Basically starved to death. They were looking for food on the classroom floor, in the garbage. They were coming to school wearing diapers,” Zubko-Valva said.
McLogan asked Bellone why safeguards aren’t in place.
“When something like this happens, a tragedy like this, you have to take a hard look at every aspect of the system we have in place to protect kids,” Bellone said.
Valva and Pollina maintain their innocence.
In the meantime, rallies will take place on Wednesday asking for the removal of some judges in Thomas’ case.
Both 8-year-old Thomas and his 10-year-old brother, Anthony, were diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Advocates say the system failed the children because case workers did not recognize the problems.
Visitation for Thomas will be held from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at Mangano Family Funeral Homes in Deer Park, followed by a funeral Thursday morning. Click here to share a tribute or send flowers ahead of Thomas’ funeral services.