NY Grand Jury Releases Scathing Report Against C P S Agency

NY Grand Jury Releases Scathing Report Against C P S Agency

Child Protection Service workers went along with the court’s custody awards despite knowing that there were serious child abuse allegations & child welfare concerns

By Alice Giordano via The Epoch Times 

The result of a six-month special grand jury investigation into the murder of 8-year-old Tommy Valva by his father has revealed another disturbing instance of abuse of power by child protection agencies and the family court system. 

The New York boy died in 2019 from hypothermia after his father, an NYPD cop, inflicted a series of cruel punishments on him. He made the child strip naked, lay on a cold cement garage floor, and hosed him down with cold water. Michael Valva was convicted of his son’s murder in 2022.

A picture of Harmony Montgomery before she went missing in 2019 (Courtesy of Justice For Harmony)

The grand jury report, released on April 3, is wrought with similar findings in the recent review of the murder of 5-year-old Harmony Montgomery. Details of the girl’s murder and the state of New Hampshire’s inability to account for her whereabouts for two years gripped the nation.

It was a tragedy set in motion when Massachusetts Family Court Judge Mark Newman awarded custody of the little girl to her father Adam Montgomery. Mr. Montgomery was convicted in February of murdering his daughter.

Judge Newman granted custody to Mr. Montgomery instead of the girl’s mother despite his lengthy violent criminal history and transient status.

Before Tommy Valva’s murder, Suffolk County Family Court Judge Jeff Zimmerman also awarded full custody of the little boy along with his two brothers to his father Michael Valva over the boy’s mother Justyna Zubko-Valva.

In both Harmony and Tommy’s cases, court records, which were widely publicized in both murder trials, show that neither of their mothers had any history of abuse or violence.

In both of the children’s cases, child protection service workers went along with the court’s custody awards despite knowing that there were serious child abuse allegations and child welfare concerns pending against both men.

In her office’s findings from an investigation into Harmony’s murder, Maria Mossaides, director of the Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate, slammed the state child protection agency for what she called system-wide failures and also for “recklessly” favoring parental rights over Harmony’s safety.

Throughout its 75-page investigative report, the New York grand jury charges New York’s child protection services system with the same kind of failures.

It faulted CPS employees for deeming child abuse allegations by another parent as unfounded with little evidence. It also cited the system as flawed for not having any independent checks and balances with the agency over such decisions.

According to the grand jury, the agency even refused to return its records for the investigation.

The failure of CPS to do so can only be interpreted as a transparent attempt to shield their own inaction from public scrutiny. Thus, the laws and rules must be changed to prevent such future injustices,” the investigative jury charged.

In its report, it also focuses on another familiar issue raised in other states regarding the operations of child protection agencies and the family court system: the immunity that child protection workers and judges enjoy from dereliction of duty.

Rep. Bryan Slaton presents Amendment 1 to House Bill 567, on April 1, 2021. (Screenshot courtesy of Bryan Slaton)
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“Even though immunity does not preclude a finding of criminal liability for CPS caseworkers who have engaged in willful misconduct or gross negligence, such caseworkers are still effectively impervious to any such liability in cases where reports are deemed unfounded,” the panel wrote.

The panel discovered that caseworkers, due to not being required to substantiate their findings to the court or even a supervisor, created a shield against accusations of “willful misconduct or gross negligence.”

“In this regard, employees of CPS have the unilateral ability to thwart criminal investigations prior to the matter of immunity even becoming relevant, by determining that a case is unfounded, or by deciding not to migrate prior unfounded reports and related materials in a new indicated investigation,” the panel found.

At a press conference during the murder trial, Ms. Zubko-Valva talked about her many pleas for help to child protection workers and other state officials that went ignored.

“I kept thinking about all the institutions who failed to help him, who completely did absolutely nothing … now everybody’s trying to do the right thing … but where were you when I begged you for help when you could have saved my child’s life,” said Ms. Zubka-Valva who said she also filed a complaint with the FBI after Judge Hope Schwartz Zimmerman gave custody to Mr. Valva.

The judge awarded custody to the father after a divorce attorney complained to the court Ms. Zubko-Valva was “interfering with her access to the children,” according to a pending wrongful death lawsuit Ms. Zubko-Valva filed against the county CPS.

Details of CPS’ alleged complicity in the court’s custody ruling are scattered throughout the lawsuit. These include accounts of the agency’s quick dismissal of a flash drive. The lawsuit stated the mother provided this drive to the agency, and it contained 320 documents and other evidence supporting the claim that Tommy and his brothers were enduring severe abuse by their father and stepmother, Angela Pollina, who was convicted last March of the second-degree murder of her stepson.

According to the lawsuit, the evidence included several letters from Tommy’s pediatrician and therapists corroborating the abuse. It was already revealed in the lawsuit and during Mr. Valva and Ms. Pollina’s trial that the agency ignored visible signs Tommy and his brothers were being starved.

Two years ago, the Institute for Justice (IJ) launched “Project Immunity and Accountability,” a national campaign to end immunity for government officials.

If we the people must follow the law, our government must follow the Constitution,” the group states as the headline to its campaign’s mission.

CPS agencies have long been accused of using immunity to justify their troubling decisions rather than reform them.

In a 2007 case, a child advocate brought a federal suit against the Standing Rock Child Protection Services and Bureau of Indian Affairs in North Dakota after the agencies claimed immunity for knowingly placing a juvenile sex offender into a foster home with three young children.

“Such immunity, it maintains, is based on the agency’s policy decision to protect the privacy interests of its former ward,” the lawsuit charged. “By this argument, CPS creates a smokescreen within which to hide from liability, despite its flagrant abuse of a system that it is duty-bound to protect.”

As part of its campaign, IJ is asking state legislators to adopt amendments to their state constitution to abolish government immunity, but so far no lawmakers have taken up the cause.

In New Hampshire, where Harmony Montgomery was murdered in 2019, Republican lawmakers like Rep. Leah Cushman have been pushing for reform of the child protection agency and family courts.

The state did not accept any blame for the girl’s murder even though evidence was introduced during her father’s trial that the agency failed to conduct mandatory checks on her and appeared to be unaware that she had been missing for two years.

Recently, Ms. Cushman successfully convinced House leaders to form a special committee to investigate the New Hampshire Division of Children, Youth, and Family (DCYF).

As reported previously by The Epoch Times, the committee had only started when she was removed as chairman of the committee by the House Speaker when she initiated a voluntary oath for both victims and officials as part of the special committee’s investigation.

She has since told The Epoch Times she believes the “real fix” is to take child protection service agencies out of the “investigation business,” abolish family courts, and return allegations of child abuse to the criminal courts where there is real due process.

“Keeping these cases civil is being soft on crime and letting people shown to be abusive to never face justice in a real court of law,” she said.

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The NH DCYF, Massachusetts Department of Children Services, and Suffolk County Child Protective Services did not respond to requests for comment from The Epoch Times.

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(TLB) published this article by Alice Giordano as posted at The Epoch Times  and ZH

Header featured image (edited) credit: org.ET post/A picture of Harmony Montgomery before she went missing in 2019 (Courtesy of Justice For Harmony)

Emphasis added by (TLB)

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