HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A long review of Child Protective Services in Suffolk County is complete and on Wednesday the results were unveiled.
The county is under scrutiny following the death of 8-year-old Thomas Valva, who froze to death in his father’s garage, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported.
The tragedy unearthed a shocking litany of missed cues and overlooked red flags. There had been reports from school nurses, and other educators, calls to hotlines, and suspected child abuse for years.
So what went wrong?
County Executive Steve Bellone revealed the results of two month-long reviews both internal and external, and six proposed new laws to better protect children and beef up CPS. Among them: the escalation process will be enhanced. That means when CPS receives three reports from a school nurse, psychologist, or social worker, the case must be reviewed by a supervisor.
Caseloads will be reduced to 12 cases per month, and a specialized unit with special training for case workers will be created to deal specifically with children with spectrum or other developmental disabilities.
Valva was autistic and educators had been reporting he was coming to school hungry, bruised, and wearing urine-soaked clothing.
“The most important finding of the task force is that this system is just not set up to effectively protect kids on the autism spectrum or other kids with developmental disabilities. Once these reforms are adopted and fully implemented CPS will never operate the same way again,” Bellone said. “And that is appropriate, because what happened to Thomas Valva can never happen again.”
The bills, dubbed the Child Protective Services Transformation Act, are designed to improve oversight so children like Valva cannot fall through the cracks.
When asked if the public deserves to know what ultimately went wrong, why so many red flags were ignored, especially by educators, Bellone said, “Yeah, absolutely,” but added the specifics are still being reviewed by the state.
Lawmakers are calling for an independent investigation.
“And if in fact they found out there was wrongdoing, people should be fired and the commissioner should resign,” Legislator Robert Trotta said.
Are the CPS changes enough? Some critics are already saying they duplicate safeguards already in place and need to go much further.
Justyna Zubko-Valva, Thomas’ mother, said in a statement the changes are unacceptable.
“This law is outrageous, not acceptable and allows for the corruption to increase in measure, and the victims of this abusive system to be more victimized and harmed as I and my children were for years that led to my son Thomas’s brutal murder by Michael Valva and Angela Pollina, who were assured that their criminal and abusive actions will always be justified by the corruptive system and individuals involved in this case. The corruption is not going to stop if the individuals who were involved in purposely hiding the severe abuse of my children and me are not going to be held accountable for their criminal actions to the highest extent of the law. The corruption is not going to stop if this system is not going to be fixed immediately. The CPS caseworkers, attorneys for the children, forensic evaluators have to wear body cameras during all their interactions with the children and parties involved. The Court proceedings should be video recorded to avoid manipulation with the court transcripts and fight the corruption in the justice system. Those are the basic steps that will initiate the fight against this enormous corruption and will protect the children and all the innocent people involved.”