SUFFOLK COUNTY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) - Child protective services caseworkers assigned to the case of Thomas Valva are reported to be anguished and heartbroken at the 8-year-old boy's death, allegedly at the hands of an abusive father.
"Public sentiment is pointed towards them and public sentiment is pointed at them in a negative way, as if they had willfully, deliberately shirked their responsibilities as a public worker and protector of children," said Daniel Levler, president of the Association of Municipal Employees 834.
The union president said that assertion is absolutely false, that workers did what they are supposed to in Thomas' case but under current law, their hands are tied, reports CBS2's Jennifer McLogan.
Levler pointed to troubling statistics: Fewer than 200 caseworkers monitor 1,000 children a year in the county, amid 9,000 reports of child abuse or neglect.
So why couldn't a caseworker remove Thomas Valva and his brothers from the home?
"You can't remove a child from a parent without having clear cut evidence as supported by the law that will be upheld by the judicial system," said Levler.
The child's mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva, fought for custody and says she documented the abuse.
"I really tried so hard to protect my children but I just could not penetrate the wall of corruption that was surrounding my case," she said.
Some CPS caseworkers complain their days are made up of paperwork instead of investigating homes where children are placed, and that current privacy laws protect abusive parents.
"We must design a system that prevents a tragedy like this from ever happening again," said Levler.
Michael Valva and Pollina were able to convince the courts that they were ideal parents, gaining full custody. Judge Joseph Lorintz, one of the judges in the divorce and custody battle over the Valva children, has recused himself from the homicide case.
Police say Thomas was punished by being deprived of food and exposed to frigid temperatures. The boy died of hypothermia on the bare concrete of his unheated Center Moriches garage.
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