After the death of an 8-year-old boy whose mother had repeatedly expressed concerns about her son’s well-being in his father’s care, Child Protective Services in Suffolk County, New York, will undergo systemic changes with the aim of preventing further tragedies like the death of Thomas Valva.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Thomas Valva died of hypothermia in January 2020 after his father Michael Valva forced him to spend the night in an unheated garage at their Long Island home when temperatures had fallen well below freezing. An ensuing investigation found that Valva and his fiancee Angela Pollina had allegedly forced Michael’s three sons to stay in the garage on multiple occasions in the past.
Since losing custody of her sons to Michael Valva two years before the boy’s death, Thomas’s mother Justine Zubko-Valva had repeatedly raised concerns about her ex-husband, alleging that Michael Valva –who at the time was an NYPD traffic cop–was abusing Thomas and his two brothers, depriving them of food and inflicting severe punishments for minor infractions. She told CrimeOnline that she attempted to file a police report with Suffolk County Police, but claimed an officer “laughed” at her.
This week, Child Protective Services officials in Suffolk County told Newsday that they are implementing significant changes to their protocols in response to Thomas Valva’s preventable death. The agency is reportedly retraining case workers and making efforts to reduce case loads, while increasing caseworker supervision. In addition, case workers are being encouraged to solicit the observations of school teachers, coaches, non-custodial parents, and other people outside of the child’s primary residence.
“It really has given an opportunity for everyone to say, we as a county need to come together to do better by our children,” Sandra Davidson, chief deputy commissioner of social services, told Newsday. “It really has been a great experience working with everyone to address the gap.”
But Zubko-Valva’s attorney reportedly said the measures being taken are too little, too late.
Jon Norinsberg is representing Thoma’s mother in a $200 million lawsuit against Suffolk CPS and other Long Island officials, alleging that they ignored the repeated warnings of abuse.
“Those are all steps in the right direction, but the problem is the system at the time was mostly deficient, and it really allowed for crimes to be committed against these children without any consequences at all until it was too late,” Norinsberg said.
Both Valva and Pollina are in custody, awaiting trial on charges of second-degree murder and endangering the welfare of a child.
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