Suffolk executive unveils bills aimed at overhauling county's Department of Social Services

The Suffolk Department of Social Services came under fire following the death of 8-year-old Thomas Valva, with many people criticizing the agency for missing signs of abuse.

News 12 Staff

Mar 4, 2020, 8:35 PM

Updated 1,540 days ago


Changes could be on the way after Suffolk's Department of Social Services came under fire following the death of 8-year-old Thomas Valva, with many people criticizing the agency for missing signs of abuse.
County officials on Wednesday announced a series of bills meant to overhaul the system and prevent a similar case from happening again. The child's hypothermia death was allegedly at the hands of his father and his fiancee. Thomas Valva's mother said complaints to Child Protective Services went unheard.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone proposed the six new laws, collectively known as the Child Protective Services Transformation Act. The measures would create a new, specialized team with social services whose job is to handle cases involving kids with cognitive disabilities. Thomas and his brother Anthony, who police say was also abused, were both on the autism spectrum.
The laws would also mandate that a supervisor get involved if four or more unique incidents are reported involving the same case. Case loads would also be monitored, with CPS workers taking on an average of no more than 12 cases at a time, and a maximum of 15.
Bellone says Thomas Valva's death showed failings in the system that had to be confronted. And he says these new measures will do that.
"Once these reforms are adopted and fully implemented, CPS will never operate the same way again. And that is appropriate. Because what happened to Thomas Valva can never happen again," says Bellone.
The bills were proposed following a monthlong external investigation by a county task force and an internal review by the Department of Social Services.
Some critics, including Republican Legislator Rob Trotta, say the proposed laws don't go far enough. They're calling for some workers at the department to lose their jobs.
Family violence expert Anthony Zenkus says these changes could help.
"It would be really important to increase and enhance the communication between the police and social services, specifically child protective and foster care," Zenkus says. "And I can say it probably doesn't happen at the level that it needs to happen right now."
When asked for a comment, Thomas' mother Justyna Zubko-Valva said, "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."


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