Grand jury report: Suffolk CPS failed to protect 8-year-old Thomas Valva

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Thursday, April 4, 2024
Grand jury report: Suffolk CPS failed to protect Thomas Valva
Chantee Lans has more details on the death of Thomas Valva in Suffolk County.

SUFFOLK COUNTY, Long Island (WABC) -- A grand jury report found that Suffolk County Child Protective Services failed to protect 8-year-old Thomas Valva.

The report, released Thursday, made the case that the child's death could have been prevented.

The young boy froze to death after being forced to sleep in a garage during a cold January night in 2020.

Valva's father, Michael, a former NYPD officer, and his then-fiancee, Angela Pollina, were both convicted of depraved indifference murder.

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney said that 11 separate reports were made to CPS by teachers before Thomas' death.

He said CPS deemed 10 of those cases "unfounded." When that happens, the information is sealed and unavailable to law enforcement and other agencies.

"Anyone objectively looking at these facts will have no doubt that had CPS done its job, Thomas Valva would still be alive today," Tierney said. "We don't need an investigation for that."

Caseworkers had received dozens of allegations of abuse of Thomas and his brother. The district attorney said that the special grand jury learned more about the abuse by interviewing Thomas' teachers.

Child advocate Josh Hanson is the executive director of the Safe Center Long Island which responds to allegations of severe child abuse. He said he agrees most with the grand jury report's recommendations for a stronger partnership between agencies like CPS and Suffolk police.

He said prosecuting CPS workers could get tricky.

"If your goal is to prosecute Child Protective Service workers, that's going to have downward pressure on the applications for Child Protective Service positions and really the only way you're going to reduce caseloads, which is a major goal in Suffolk County, is to hire more workers," Hanson said.

The union for CPS workers released a statement saying they performed their jobs in accordance with their training and within legal guidelines set forth by Suffolk County.

Tierney maintains that CPS failed the young boy and released a statement on the report's findings:

"Eight-year-old Thomas Valva's death followed repeated complaints made to Child Protective Services by Thomas' teachers and staff at East Moriches Elementary School over the course of almost two years. After Michael Valva's and Angela Pollina's trials concluded, I promised that my office would investigate the conduct and practices of the Child Protective Services Division of Suffolk County's Department of Social Services. A Special Grand Jury was empaneled and heard from dozens of witnesses over the course of six months. I thank the Grand Jurors for listening to sometimes heart-breaking testimony. Unfortunately, the Grand Jury's investigation was stymied by current New York State law which allows CPS supervisors and bosses to suppress repeated reports of abuse that they deem to be 'UNFOUNDED.' The statute allows these materials to be hidden from public scrutiny, law enforcement, and even from a Grand Jury investigating the death of a child. This backwards law must be changed. The system we currently have to protect our children is a recipe for disaster. It is unconscionable that even in a case such as this, no one, not even a District Attorney, Superior Court Judge, or state advisory board can obtain prior reports that CPS has arbitrarily and erroneously deemed 'UNFOUNDED.' The 75-page Grand Jury Report released today highlights the systematic failures of the current Child Protective Services system and recommends local, as well as state-wide, common-sense changes to ensure that incompetence and apathy are not protected, and a tragedy like the death of Thomas Valva does not happen again."

Click here to view the report.

The CPS Transformation Act was launched in Thomas' honor back in December 2023, which created a task force that led to raising the pay and hiring 46 new case workers.

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