A 75-page report released Thursday recommends no criminal charges against Child Protective Services caseworkers investigating allegations of abuse by the child's father and his fiance. Credit: Newsday

A special grand jury convened to investigate Suffolk County's Department of Social Services following the hypothermia death of 8-year-old Thomas Valva in 2020 recommends no criminal charges against Child Protective Services caseworkers investigating allegations of abuse by the child's father and his fiancee, a 75-page report released Thursday concluded.

The caseworkers in charge of protecting Thomas Valva, who died after his NYPD officer father and his father's fiancee forced him to sleep in the garage of their Center Moriches home in freezing temperatures, shielded themselves from public review of their actions — and potential criminal charges — due to confidentiality laws that must be reformed, the grand jury impaneled by Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney found.

“No one looking at this can come to any other conclusion other than CPS failed these boys, failed these boys miserable, and as a result Thomas died,” Tierney said at a news conference at his Hauppauge office Thursday. 

The grand jury report does not recommend criminal charges against the Child Protective Services caseworkers or supervisors assigned to investigate the case of Thomas Valva and his brother Anthony — who were both autistic — from the abuse they endured, which included beatings, starvation and verbal abuse.

Instead, the grand jury issued a number of recommendations, including amending a state law that shields unfounded CPS reports from grand juries and district attorneys, the report says.

The report by the grand jury, which sat from Sept. 13 to March 15, does not name Thomas, instead referring to him as “Child A,” or his siblings or even those who were convicted of killing him. But the facts laid out in the report, including dates and previously reported abuse allegations, mirror those that occurred in the Valva case.

Thomas' father, Michael Valva, and his fiancee, Angela Pollina, forced Thomas and his older brother, Anthony, to sleep overnight in their unheated garage. Michael Valva and Pollina were convicted of second-degree murder and child endangerment charges at separate trials. Both are serving sentences of 25 years to life in prison in Thomas' death and abuse of the two boys.

“After [Thomas']  death, CPS employees could have obviated the injustice in this case by migrating the 10 unfounded reports and underlying investigative material into the subsequent indicated report relating to [his], which would have made those reports and material accessible to this grand jury,” the grand jury report dated March 12 said. “The failure of CPS to do so can only be interpreted as a transparent attempt to shield their own inaction from public scrutiny.”

The grand jury noted CPS, a division of the Department of Social Services, received more than 10 reports from mandated reporters alleging abuse against Thomas, but deemed those reports “unfounded,” which ultimately shielded CPS and its caseworkers from any potential criminal charges, following CPS determinations in 2018 against Thomas' biological mother, who lost custody of Thomas and his brothers before Thomas' death.

None of the unfounded reports or the reports' underlying information were ever migrated into the “indicated case” — meaning a case in which CPS found enough evidence to support the claim that a child has been abused or neglected — against Michael Valva or Angela Pollina, a decision that was at the sole discretion of CPS personnel, the grand jury said.

“The absence of this information, which is essential to any effort to determine whether, or to what extent, CPS as an agency or individual CPS employees, failed in their duty to protect [Thomas], is due solely to the current confidentiality laws and rules governing access to unfounded CPS files,” the report says."These laws and rules, while intended to protect the privacy rights of citizens, have had the unintended consequence of shielding CPS and its employees from investigation into criminal culpability.”

Suffolk AME President Daniel C. Levler, who heads the union representing case workers, said the report “reaffirms our position from Day One-the CPS caseworkers in the Valva case performed their jobs in accordance with their training and within the legal guidelines set forth by Suffolk County's Social Services Department and New York State law.”

Levler's statement urged: “It's well past time for the media and others to stop trying to convict these caseworkers in the court of public opinion and to instead focus on the systemic failures highlighted in the District Attorney's report, which require immediate legislative action by our county and state lawmakers. AME has spent over seven years sounding the alarm about the dangers stemming from the shortage of caseworkers and the heavy caseloads caused by the previous administration's failure to address this problem.”

Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine, in a statement, said he is “immediately” bringing in new leadership. The current five-year term for DSS Commissioner Frances Pierre, who ran the department when Thomas died, expires Tuesday. 

“The death of Thomas Valva is an enduring stain on Suffolk County, and the grand jury report unveiled today by District Attorney Tierney underscores the failure of the prior administration’s policies and the leadership of Suffolk CPS to take real action that could have saved a child’s life and protected an untold number of others,” Romaine said. “We did not need a grand jury report to know that Suffolk County failed Thomas Valva.”

The report said the grand jury was further “hampered” by state law and a subsequent court ruling that shields even law enforcement from access to CPS reports that were not “indicated” or substantiated. 

“This has severely hampered this grand jury’s ability to investigate whether CPS caseworkers and other personnel engaged in willful misconduct or gross negligence in their investigation of those reports.”

During the six-month grand jury term, the district attorney's office sought a court order in Suffolk County Supreme Court to compel Suffolk’s Department of Social Services to “fully comply with those subpoenas by providing the underlying records relating to the unfounded reports.”

The court sided with the Department of Social Services, saying the statute seals all records relating to unfounded reports — not just the reports themselves. Unfounded CPS records must remain on file for 10 years from the date of receipt, after which they are expunged, the grand jury report said.

The court’s denial “hampered this grand jury’s ability to conduct a thorough investigation of the conduct of CPS personnel, not only in connection with [Thomas'] case, but in connection with other cases as well,” the grand jury said.

“If a CPS employee in an unfounded case were to have falsified CPS records by, for example, indicating in CONNECTIONS that they had made a field visit when, in fact, they had not, the current disclosure laws and rules for unfounded cases would prevent a criminal investigation and/or prosecution of that employee’s misconduct. Moreover, without access to unfounded files, it would be virtually impossible to prove  gross negligence or willful misconduct by a CPS employee in an unfounded case,” the report said.

Three CPS employees who played key roles in the agency’s investigations into abuse allegations against Valva and Pollina were promoted after Thomas died, Newsday reported previously.

The grand jury, which heard testimony from 27 witnesses and consulted 56 exhibits that consisted of thousands of pages, proposed a slew of legislative and administrative reforms, including:

The New York State Legislature should amend the state’s Social Services Law § 422(5)(a), which currently seals unfounded CPS reports, to allow a grand jury or a district attorney to access the reports and the corresponding underlying documents after obtaining a court order, and to allow the documents to be introduced into evidence before a grand jury for possible charges and during a prosecution, The Suffolk County Legislature should amend the county’s administrative code to require Child Protective Services to have a casework supervisor review any case when three or more reports are made from any mandated reporter, The governor should form a task force to review all the confidentiality laws and rules regarding CPS investigations, which should include examining whether more information sharing with mandatory reporters would further the investigative process without also compromising a subject’s right to confidentiality, The governor should form a task force to review the feasibility of extending the waiver of the Civil Service examination for new CPS caseworkers beyond the current expiration date of December 2024, or perhaps eliminate the test altogether for new CPS caseworkers, because it does not affect the job responsibilities of a caseworker, The Suffolk County executive should create a task force to determine the feasibility of creating and/or providing funding for a Suffolk County Training Academy for CPS caseworkers to better address the patterns and needs peculiar to Suffolk, modeled after the one created for Administration for Children Services in New York City; the hiring of retired police officers as investigative consultants by the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, providing Suffolk DSS employees with an Employee Assistance Program, which would make mental health professionals available to those dealing with vicarious trauma; the creation of an Office of Safety First, modeled after the one created in New York City within the Administration for Children’s Services, which would provide a dedicated hotline for mandated reporters to call to assist in connecting the mandated reporter with the person at CPS assigned to a case; the hiring of more CPS office assistants,.

The governor's office said it would review the report.

“Gov. Hochul is committed to keeping children and families safe, and our heart breaks for the family who has been devastated by this horrific incident,” said Gordon Tepper, the governor's Long Island spokesperson.

Thomas died on Jan. 17, 2020, after his father and his fiancee forced Thomas and his older brother, Anthony, to sleep overnight in their unheated garage when the temperature was 19 degrees.

Trial testimony showed Thomas’ teachers and school counselors — who are mandated by state law to report if they have reasonable suspicion of the abuse of any minor child — filed several reports with the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment, alleging the children came to school bruised, bloodied, dirty, hungry and soaked in urine. Thomas once told a teacher he was sleeping in the garage, but a caseworker dismissed the notion, according to trial testimony.

In 2022, a federal judge said “CPS did not step in to protect the children” and allowed the abuse to continue “with impunity” as part of a ruling in the $200 million civil case filed against Suffolk County and individual caseworkers by Thomas' mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva.

Newsday previously reported the state Office of Children and Family Services has refused to release its Child Fatality Review Report that is critical of Suffolk Child Protective Services. A Suffolk “program improvement plan” created in response to the state report said CPS was not always effectively documenting the history of its case, did not give enough emphasis to child-abuse hotline reports in its decision-making, did not coordinate enough with law enforcement and did not give enough priority to abuse reports from school employees.

A Suffolk legislative task force that examined the Valva case has been largely inactive since 2021. Newsday has reported that a planned review by the state court system on how judges handled custody and visitation issues before Thomas died never happened.

The grand jury report was also critical of the Office of Children and Family Services, saying it relied solely on the factual representations made by Child Protective Services when monitoring the agency. Office of Children and Family Services should not just meet with the caseworkers assigned to cases that the office is monitoring, it should also conduct independent investigations, the report said. OCFS should also facilitate better communication regarding trainee evaluations, the report said.

After Thomas' death, the report said, the Office of Children and Family Services placed Suffolk's CPS on “heightened monitoring” after completing a “comprehensive review of the casework practice of Suffolk County's CPS regarding, not only the previous investigations related to [Thomas Valva] and that child's family, but also a sampling of other CPS investigations as well as foster care and preventive cases.”

Office of Children and Family Services, the report said, noticed “a number of practice concerns” regarding the adequacy of supervision, CPS history reviews and safety assessments and plans. The heightened monitoring included monthly meetings with Suffolk CPS, instead of quarterly, and randomly selecting and reviewing at least five active cases every month. But it ended on March 17, 2022, after the Office of Children and Family Services said Suffolk CPS had made “substantial progress” in correcting its deficiencies.

The grand jury report was also critical of the administration of former Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who oversaw the passage of the 2020 CPS Transformation Act, which passed six months after Thomas' death. Before leaving office, Bellone said the county had met all the act's mandates but acknowledged the county had failed to keep CPS caseload levels below its reform goal of 12 cases or fewer per caseworker.

The report affirmed those findings, and said that CPS has almost achieved its goal due to a temporary rule change set to expire in December that waives the requirement for new caseworker applicants to take the Civil Service exam.

And while the Department of Social Services is currently budgeted for the number of investigative caseworkers deemed necessary, it is “not sufficiently budgeted” for the office assistants that handle paperwork and make it possible for caseworkers to investigate in the field, the report said.

“Requests for more money for support staff have regularly been made to the previous administration in Suffolk County, but to no avail,” the report said.

The Suffolk County Department of Social Services also needs to conduct yearly employee evaluations, provide training for evaluators, revamp its disciplinary process to do away with the current process, which allows one person to make all disciplinary decisions, the report said.

CPS employees should also do training sessions on how to investigate abuse cases with members of the police department and district attorney's office, the report said.

Police department detectives in the Special Victims Unit, who currently only investigate cases involving children under the age of 13, should also investigate cases involving children between the ages of 13 and 17, the report said.

 Former Suffolk Social Services Commissioner Gregory Blass, who also served as a family court judge, called the grand jury report “spot on,” keying in on reforms that would address concerns over caseloads and a lack of support staff. Blass said when working through county budgets, support staff was often “the first place to cut.”

“The lowest priority when the pencils are sharpened is to just drop the support staff when feasible, and that is as much a factor and a burden in a caseworker’s caseload,” said Blass, who worked for former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy and the Bellone administration. “It's not just the cases themselves, but the ability to keep up with something as simple as returning a phone call.”

Mental health support for caseworkers, better training and performance evaluations are all areas Blass agreed should be prioritized. 

Thomas' mother, who long maintained that various officials ignored the plight of her sons, rejected a $3 million offer by the county to settle her pending lawsuit last year.

Attorney Tom Bosworth, who represent the child’s mother, said Thomas' death was preventable.

“CPS was provided countless opportunities to intervene in the face of clear danger to the child at the hands of his father and the father’s fiancee,” he said in a statement. “To say that CPS failed in this regard would be a gross understatement. They consciously ignored red flag after red flag, knowing that children were starving, abused, and made to sleep in a freezing basement.”

A special grand jury convened to investigate Suffolk County's Department of Social Services following the hypothermia death of 8-year-old Thomas Valva in 2020 recommends no criminal charges against Child Protective Services caseworkers investigating allegations of abuse by the child's father and his fiancee, a 75-page report released Thursday concluded.

The caseworkers in charge of protecting Thomas Valva, who died after his NYPD officer father and his father's fiancee forced him to sleep in the garage of their Center Moriches home in freezing temperatures, shielded themselves from public review of their actions — and potential criminal charges — due to confidentiality laws that must be reformed, the grand jury impaneled by Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney found.

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney announces the conclusion of a six-month...

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney announces the conclusion of a six-month special grand jury investigation involving Thomas Valva's death at a news conference at the Dennison building in Hauppauge on Thursday. Credit: James Carbone

“No one looking at this can come to any other conclusion other than CPS failed these boys, failed these boys miserable, and as a result Thomas died,” Tierney said at a news conference at his Hauppauge office Thursday. 

The grand jury report does not recommend criminal charges against the Child Protective Services caseworkers or supervisors assigned to investigate the case of Thomas Valva and his brother Anthony — who were both autistic — from the abuse they endured, which included beatings, starvation and verbal abuse.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A special grand jury convened to investigate Suffolk County's Department of Social Services following the hypothermia death of 8-year-old Thomas Valva in 2020 recommends no criminal charges against Child Protective Services caseworkers.
  • The caseworkers in charge of protecting Thomas Valva, who died after his NYPD officer father and his father's fiancee forced him to sleep in the garage of their Center Moriches home in freezing temperatures, shielded themselves from public review of their action, the grand jury impaneled by Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney found.
  • Instead, the grand jury issued a number of recommendations, including amending a state law that shields unfounded CPS reports from grand juries and district attorneys, the report says.

Instead, the grand jury issued a number of recommendations, including amending a state law that shields unfounded CPS reports from grand juries and district attorneys, the report says.

The report by the grand jury, which sat from Sept. 13 to March 15, does not name Thomas, instead referring to him as “Child A,” or his siblings or even those who were convicted of killing him. But the facts laid out in the report, including dates and previously reported abuse allegations, mirror those that occurred in the Valva case.

Thomas' father, Michael Valva, and his fiancee, Angela Pollina, forced Thomas and his older brother, Anthony, to sleep overnight in their unheated garage. Michael Valva and Pollina were convicted of second-degree murder and child endangerment charges at separate trials. Both are serving sentences of 25 years to life in prison in Thomas' death and abuse of the two boys.

“After [Thomas']  death, CPS employees could have obviated the injustice in this case by migrating the 10 unfounded reports and underlying investigative material into the subsequent indicated report relating to [his], which would have made those reports and material accessible to this grand jury,” the grand jury report dated March 12 said. “The failure of CPS to do so can only be interpreted as a transparent attempt to shield their own inaction from public scrutiny.”

The grand jury noted CPS, a division of the Department of Social Services, received more than 10 reports from mandated reporters alleging abuse against Thomas, but deemed those reports “unfounded,” which ultimately shielded CPS and its caseworkers from any potential criminal charges, following CPS determinations in 2018 against Thomas' biological mother, who lost custody of Thomas and his brothers before Thomas' death.

None of the unfounded reports or the reports' underlying information were ever migrated into the “indicated case” — meaning a case in which CPS found enough evidence to support the claim that a child has been abused or neglected — against Michael Valva or Angela Pollina, a decision that was at the sole discretion of CPS personnel, the grand jury said.

“The absence of this information, which is essential to any effort to determine whether, or to what extent, CPS as an agency or individual CPS employees, failed in their duty to protect [Thomas], is due solely to the current confidentiality laws and rules governing access to unfounded CPS files,” the report says."These laws and rules, while intended to protect the privacy rights of citizens, have had the unintended consequence of shielding CPS and its employees from investigation into criminal culpability.”

Suffolk AME President Daniel C. Levler, who heads the union representing case workers, said the report “reaffirms our position from Day One-the CPS caseworkers in the Valva case performed their jobs in accordance with their training and within the legal guidelines set forth by Suffolk County's Social Services Department and New York State law.”

Levler's statement urged: “It's well past time for the media and others to stop trying to convict these caseworkers in the court of public opinion and to instead focus on the systemic failures highlighted in the District Attorney's report, which require immediate legislative action by our county and state lawmakers. AME has spent over seven years sounding the alarm about the dangers stemming from the shortage of caseworkers and the heavy caseloads caused by the previous administration's failure to address this problem.”

Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine, in a statement, said he is “immediately” bringing in new leadership. The current five-year term for DSS Commissioner Frances Pierre, who ran the department when Thomas died, expires Tuesday. 

“The death of Thomas Valva is an enduring stain on Suffolk County, and the grand jury report unveiled today by District Attorney Tierney underscores the failure of the prior administration’s policies and the leadership of Suffolk CPS to take real action that could have saved a child’s life and protected an untold number of others,” Romaine said. “We did not need a grand jury report to know that Suffolk County failed Thomas Valva.”

The report said the grand jury was further “hampered” by state law and a subsequent court ruling that shields even law enforcement from access to CPS reports that were not “indicated” or substantiated. 

“This has severely hampered this grand jury’s ability to investigate whether CPS caseworkers and other personnel engaged in willful misconduct or gross negligence in their investigation of those reports.”

During the six-month grand jury term, the district attorney's office sought a court order in Suffolk County Supreme Court to compel Suffolk’s Department of Social Services to “fully comply with those subpoenas by providing the underlying records relating to the unfounded reports.”

The court sided with the Department of Social Services, saying the statute seals all records relating to unfounded reports — not just the reports themselves. Unfounded CPS records must remain on file for 10 years from the date of receipt, after which they are expunged, the grand jury report said.

The court’s denial “hampered this grand jury’s ability to conduct a thorough investigation of the conduct of CPS personnel, not only in connection with [Thomas'] case, but in connection with other cases as well,” the grand jury said.

“If a CPS employee in an unfounded case were to have falsified CPS records by, for example, indicating in CONNECTIONS that they had made a field visit when, in fact, they had not, the current disclosure laws and rules for unfounded cases would prevent a criminal investigation and/or prosecution of that employee’s misconduct. Moreover, without access to unfounded files, it would be virtually impossible to prove  gross negligence or willful misconduct by a CPS employee in an unfounded case,” the report said.

Three CPS employees who played key roles in the agency’s investigations into abuse allegations against Valva and Pollina were promoted after Thomas died, Newsday reported previously.

The grand jury, which heard testimony from 27 witnesses and consulted 56 exhibits that consisted of thousands of pages, proposed a slew of legislative and administrative reforms, including:

  • The New York State Legislature should amend the state’s Social Services Law § 422(5)(a), which currently seals unfounded CPS reports, to allow a grand jury or a district attorney to access the reports and the corresponding underlying documents after obtaining a court order, and to allow the documents to be introduced into evidence before a grand jury for possible charges and during a prosecution.
  • The Suffolk County Legislature should amend the county’s administrative code to require Child Protective Services to have a casework supervisor review any case when three or more reports are made from any mandated reporter.
  • The governor should form a task force to review all the confidentiality laws and rules regarding CPS investigations, which should include examining whether more information sharing with mandatory reporters would further the investigative process without also compromising a subject’s right to confidentiality.
  • The governor should form a task force to review the feasibility of extending the waiver of the Civil Service examination for new CPS caseworkers beyond the current expiration date of December 2024, or perhaps eliminate the test altogether for new CPS caseworkers, because it does not affect the job responsibilities of a caseworker.
  • The Suffolk County executive should create a task force to determine the feasibility of creating and/or providing funding for a Suffolk County Training Academy for CPS caseworkers to better address the patterns and needs peculiar to Suffolk, modeled after the one created for Administration for Children Services in New York City; the hiring of retired police officers as investigative consultants by the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, providing Suffolk DSS employees with an Employee Assistance Program, which would make mental health professionals available to those dealing with vicarious trauma; the creation of an Office of Safety First, modeled after the one created in New York City within the Administration for Children’s Services, which would provide a dedicated hotline for mandated reporters to call to assist in connecting the mandated reporter with the person at CPS assigned to a case; the hiring of more CPS office assistants.

The governor's office said it would review the report.

“Gov. Hochul is committed to keeping children and families safe, and our heart breaks for the family who has been devastated by this horrific incident,” said Gordon Tepper, the governor's Long Island spokesperson.

Michael Valva, left, and Angela Pollina, right, were convicted of...

Michael Valva, left, and Angela Pollina, right, were convicted of second-degree murder in the hypothermia death of 8-year-old Thomas Valva. Credit: James Carbone

Thomas died on Jan. 17, 2020, after his father and his fiancee forced Thomas and his older brother, Anthony, to sleep overnight in their unheated garage when the temperature was 19 degrees.

Trial testimony showed Thomas’ teachers and school counselors — who are mandated by state law to report if they have reasonable suspicion of the abuse of any minor child — filed several reports with the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment, alleging the children came to school bruised, bloodied, dirty, hungry and soaked in urine. Thomas once told a teacher he was sleeping in the garage, but a caseworker dismissed the notion, according to trial testimony.

In 2022, a federal judge said “CPS did not step in to protect the children” and allowed the abuse to continue “with impunity” as part of a ruling in the $200 million civil case filed against Suffolk County and individual caseworkers by Thomas' mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva.

Newsday previously reported the state Office of Children and Family Services has refused to release its Child Fatality Review Report that is critical of Suffolk Child Protective Services. A Suffolk “program improvement plan” created in response to the state report said CPS was not always effectively documenting the history of its case, did not give enough emphasis to child-abuse hotline reports in its decision-making, did not coordinate enough with law enforcement and did not give enough priority to abuse reports from school employees.

A Suffolk legislative task force that examined the Valva case has been largely inactive since 2021. Newsday has reported that a planned review by the state court system on how judges handled custody and visitation issues before Thomas died never happened.

The grand jury report was also critical of the Office of Children and Family Services, saying it relied solely on the factual representations made by Child Protective Services when monitoring the agency. Office of Children and Family Services should not just meet with the caseworkers assigned to cases that the office is monitoring, it should also conduct independent investigations, the report said. OCFS should also facilitate better communication regarding trainee evaluations, the report said.

After Thomas' death, the report said, the Office of Children and Family Services placed Suffolk's CPS on “heightened monitoring” after completing a “comprehensive review of the casework practice of Suffolk County's CPS regarding, not only the previous investigations related to [Thomas Valva] and that child's family, but also a sampling of other CPS investigations as well as foster care and preventive cases.”

Office of Children and Family Services, the report said, noticed “a number of practice concerns” regarding the adequacy of supervision, CPS history reviews and safety assessments and plans. The heightened monitoring included monthly meetings with Suffolk CPS, instead of quarterly, and randomly selecting and reviewing at least five active cases every month. But it ended on March 17, 2022, after the Office of Children and Family Services said Suffolk CPS had made “substantial progress” in correcting its deficiencies.

The grand jury report was also critical of the administration of former Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who oversaw the passage of the 2020 CPS Transformation Act, which passed six months after Thomas' death. Before leaving office, Bellone said the county had met all the act's mandates but acknowledged the county had failed to keep CPS caseload levels below its reform goal of 12 cases or fewer per caseworker.

The report affirmed those findings, and said that CPS has almost achieved its goal due to a temporary rule change set to expire in December that waives the requirement for new caseworker applicants to take the Civil Service exam.

And while the Department of Social Services is currently budgeted for the number of investigative caseworkers deemed necessary, it is “not sufficiently budgeted” for the office assistants that handle paperwork and make it possible for caseworkers to investigate in the field, the report said.

“Requests for more money for support staff have regularly been made to the previous administration in Suffolk County, but to no avail,” the report said.

The Suffolk County Department of Social Services also needs to conduct yearly employee evaluations, provide training for evaluators, revamp its disciplinary process to do away with the current process, which allows one person to make all disciplinary decisions, the report said.

CPS employees should also do training sessions on how to investigate abuse cases with members of the police department and district attorney's office, the report said.

Police department detectives in the Special Victims Unit, who currently only investigate cases involving children under the age of 13, should also investigate cases involving children between the ages of 13 and 17, the report said.

 Former Suffolk Social Services Commissioner Gregory Blass, who also served as a family court judge, called the grand jury report “spot on,” keying in on reforms that would address concerns over caseloads and a lack of support staff. Blass said when working through county budgets, support staff was often “the first place to cut.”

“The lowest priority when the pencils are sharpened is to just drop the support staff when feasible, and that is as much a factor and a burden in a caseworker’s caseload,” said Blass, who worked for former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy and the Bellone administration. “It's not just the cases themselves, but the ability to keep up with something as simple as returning a phone call.”

Mental health support for caseworkers, better training and performance evaluations are all areas Blass agreed should be prioritized. 

Thomas' mother, who long maintained that various officials ignored the plight of her sons, rejected a $3 million offer by the county to settle her pending lawsuit last year.

Attorney Tom Bosworth, who represent the child’s mother, said Thomas' death was preventable.

“CPS was provided countless opportunities to intervene in the face of clear danger to the child at the hands of his father and the father’s fiancee,” he said in a statement. “To say that CPS failed in this regard would be a gross understatement. They consciously ignored red flag after red flag, knowing that children were starving, abused, and made to sleep in a freezing basement.”

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