Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer Rob Calarco and legislative leaders are forming a special committee to investigate the tragic death of 8-year-old Thomas Valva and form recommendations to ensure that what happened to him never happens again.
The three-person committee will be made up of Calarco, Deputy Presiding Officer Kara Hahn, and the minority leader, Legislator Tom Cilmi. The committee will be tasked with conducting a thorough factfinding of the circumstances that led to the child’s death and the county’s interactions with the family after abuse allegations were made.
“Without understanding the facts of this specific case, we cannot possibly address the potential shortfalls of the system,” Calarco said. “There are still questions that must be answered. We need to understand what happened, when it happened, and what the response was in order to identify shortcomings and ensure that the recommendations we make will best prevent another tragedy.”
A goal of the committee will be to get a full picture of what happened, including not only the county’s direct involvement with the family but also how the case worked its way through the court system and limitations of investigative workers. The committee will consider seeking authority to hire someone with expertise in child protective services and family court issues to aid the legislators in their investigation.
“The circumstances surrounding Thomas Valva’s death have eroded the public’s faith in the agencies that are intended to protect the vulnerable,” Hahn said. “Our committee’s effort won’t undue the suffering Thomas knew during his brief life, but it will allow us to understand the processes that directed this case and will hopefully restore the public’s confidence in institutions dedicated to protecting our children.”
“We will leave no stone unturned as we investigate every aspect of the Thomas Valva case,” Cilmi said. “For the sake of Thomas’s legacy, which must be one of positive change, we must have complete interagency cooperation. Only then will we be able to improve the systems that are intended to protect children.”
The committee’s findings will add to recommendations that have been proposed thus far to improve Child Protective Services after an internal review of the Department of Social Services and the formation of a task force by the County Executive. The Presiding Officer and his colleagues emphasized that they will not come to the table with preconceived notions of what happened, nor is it their intention to second guess the difficult work conducted by CPS workers or their dedication to protecting Suffolk’s children from abuse; the committee’s mission is focused on uncovering the facts of the case.
“The public has been calling for an outside review and the Suffolk County Legislature, as a body tasked with oversight, is in position to look at all the systems that were involved. We need an accounting of what happened, and we will follow the facts where they lead us,” Calarco added.