Nicholas Alahverdian (July 11, 1987 - February 29, 2020) was an author, political scientist, whistleblower, and child welfare advocate who exposed widespread abuse and negligence in the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth & Families while he was an employee of the Rhode Island House of Representatives. His disclosures revealed that children in state care were shuffled from night-to-night shelters, denied an education, and were routinely placed in treatment facilities that violated state and federal law both in-state and out-of-state. After his legislative advocacy, at the age of 15 he was sent to facilities in Nebraska and then to Florida where he was tortured and raped. The Florida and Nebraska homes were subsequently shut down after Alahverdian, as an adult, exposed the abuse and called for reform once again. Alahverdian later attended Harvard University. Alahverdian had also worked as a state lobbyist and DCYF reform advocate, managed political campaigns, written op-eds for The Providence Journal, and had cameo roles in Brotherhood and Underdog. In early 2020, NBC 10 News, WPRI News, ABC 6 News, and WPRO News revealed that Alahverdian was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The Associated Press and other news agencies confirmed that Alahverdian died on February 29, 2020, of the illness which had spread to his kidneys and lungs.
In a 2011 Associated Press article about foster care by AP investigative reporter David Klepper, Alahverdian disclosed that Rhode Island had been spending millions of dollars on sending children out of Rhode Island. Alahverdian reported that he was not allowed to contact anyone while in the Florida and Nebraska foster homes, including the courts, the police, his social worker, Rhode Island legislators, or anyone else that could help him escape the torture.
Alahverdian explained in interviews that he was sent out of state because his political activity, lobbying, and media appearances from 2002 until early 2003 made him a publicity threat. He remarked in a 2011 Providence Journal interview that "The problem here was, I was consistently informative, a source of information on DCYF." Being sent from Rhode Island to Nebraska and then to Florida where Alahverdian knew no one, with both facilities having questionable records of care, worked to prevent him from speaking with the legislators, the media, lawyers, or the courts. The torture and rapes continued until Alahverdian was released "beyond recognition and ability to function" due to PTSD and depression. A DCYF spokesperson confirmed that the agency had stopped using the Florida facility where Alahverdian was raped, remarking in an interview that "There were concerns we had with the way they were treating our kids."
Alahverdian was hired as a Rhode Island House of Representatives page and legislative aide aged 14 at the same time he was an orphan in the custody of the Department of Children, Youth and Families. While attending Harvard full-time, Alahverdian also lobbied for DCYF reform, often supplanting extra-curricular activities with traveling to Providence to testify at hearings at the Rhode Island State House.
1 Early life and political beginnings
2 Work as a lobbyist
5 The Orphan Chronicles
6 Cancer diagnosis
7 2020 legislation
11 External links
Early life and political beginnings
In April 2002, Alahverdian attended a special hearing of the Cranston City Council and addressed over 900 taxpayers upset over a threat of state control of the city's financial department and budget deficits. Alahverdian noted that the first-term mayor John O'Leary was being blamed for the city deficit, and not the past mayoral administrations. In an interview published in The Providence Journal, reporter Mark Arsenault wrote: “Alahverdian said, “We have a great City Council and I oppose a state takeover.” O’Leary, he said, cares deeply for the community. He was unfazed by the crowd's rough reception. He said, “I stand up for what I feel.” As did everyone.”
Alahverdian was offered jobs with the city and the state following his speaking up at the City Council meeting where he was publicly supported by Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island AFL–CIO President George Nee and others. After a short time lobbying for increased state aid to local schools, Alahverdian was ultimately hired by Reps. Gordon Fox, Bea Lanzi, Joanne Giannini, and David Cicilline (who later went on to become a congressman) as a page and then as a legislative aide.
Shortly after the start of his employment at the Rhode Island State House, Alahverdian became an orphan after his mother had a nervous breakdown. He was placed in shelters and group homes in what was called the DCYF “night-to-night” program.
In Rhode Island, at the time, the standard practice was to be transferred from the DCYF building during the day to a shelter where the child would spend the night. During his stays in these facilities, Alahverdian was abused and neglected by employees and other clients present in the shelters. Since he was still a state employee working with members of the Rhode Island General Assembly, he was able to inform lawmakers of the attacks.
Due to the legislators finally having the opportunity to get the facts from Alahverdian, the Rhode Island House of Representatives read and passed a resolution that requested "that the Department of Children, Youth and Families present a plan to the General Assembly on or before May 1, 2002 which will eliminate night to night placement in Fiscal Year 2002."
In 2003, Alahverdian resigned his position as a legislative aide and became a full-time lobbyist to advocate for DCYF reform and continue his whistleblowing efforts. A state representative approached Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah and offered to adopt Alahverdian. This was revealed in a September 2012 interview when a former state rep called in to The Buddy Cianci Show on Newstalk 630 WPRO and reported that he was one of the lawmakers who witnessed the abuse in the shelters and offered to adopt Alahverdian. He said he saw Alahverdian testify before multiple legislative committees and commissions on DCYF issues.
None of the legislators or inquiring members of the press were told that Alahverdian had been sent to Nebraska and then on to Florida. Alahverdian was prohibited from having any contact with the outside world. Both the Nebraska and Florida placements were closed by their respective states for significant abuse before, during, and after Alahverdian was admitted.
Providence Journal columnist Bob Kerr wrote of Alahverdian's time in the night-to-night program as such: "He was put in night-to-night placement by the Department of Children, Youth and Families, a practice so hideously abusive and stifling that it would seem better fit to a Charles Dickens novel than to 21st century Rhode Island." Kerr also wrote that " has always suspected that he was sent out of state because he was so outspoken about the horrors of night-to-night placement. He had been a page and an aide at the Rhode Island State House before his exile, and he was not reluctant to point out the hard lessons learned from his DCYF experience."
Work as a lobbyist
Rep. DaSilva's bill would have kept Rhode Island children in Rhode Island group homes as opposed to sending them far from home.
National political truth researchers PolitiFact cited Alahverdian's battle with the DCYF and wrote an article claiming that Rep. DaSilva's declaration that the DCYF was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars was "mostly true"—because the state had actually been spending millions on out-of-state placements. DaSilva said he was moved by Alahverdian's story. The article went on to say Alahverdian says he endured years of abuse and neglect in two out-of-state residential facilities where he was sent by DCYF. He has formed his own nonprofit organization to advocate for children in DCYF care. He has also filed state and federal lawsuits stemming from his alleged mistreatment.
Alahverdian was also responsible for other legislation. This included a resolution introduced by State Rep. Arthur Handy (creating an emergency oversight commission on DCYF) and a bill introduced by Rep. Michael Marcello that would guarantee the constitutional rights of children and adolescents in DCYF care
Alahverdian told NBC News that he was "subjected to torture, beatings, and assault". He also explained that he was refused to contact anyone at all, including the courts, his social worker, or his lawyer until his 18th birthday. During a news conference, he said "These facilities are dangerous. My question to Rhode Island: Why are we paying for them?". Among other causes, he promoted the passage of social justice legislation. Alahverdian fused abuse data and budget analyses with his own experience in DCYF custody to inform the Rhode Island legislature of what taxpayers were funding.
DaSilva's bill banned the use of treatment facilities outside the state of Rhode Island unless the Family Court made a finding that the services could not be offered in Rhode Island.
As recent as the 2000s, Rhode Island was removing children from their families at twice the national average.
Alahverdian took action against Governor Lincoln Chafee's appointment to the position of Child Advocate, Regina Gibb, for being a former DCYF employee. Alahverdian testified before a Senate committee that if she felt strongly about child abuse and protecting children, she would have started doing so at DCYF.
During a hearing on legislation pertaining to former Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah, Alahverdian successfully persuaded the House Judiciary Committee to consider the abuse and negligence that occurred under Judge Jeremiah's reign and refuse his request. The bill, if passed, would have given the emeritus Family Court Chief a special “emeritus judge license plate." Alahverdian, quoted in The Providence Journal, stated it was “against the best interests of the state.” The bill ultimately failed and Jeremiah never received the special license plate
Rep. Bob DaSilva introduced the bill to bar out-of-state placements once again in 2012.
In April 2012, longtime Providence Journal columnist Bob Kerr remarked that “regardless of what happens in federal court or at the State House, Alahverdian has left his mark. Night-to-night placement has been ended forever. And Manatee Palms, the Florida facility where Alahverdian experienced so much abuse, is no longer used by DCYF. Alahverdian, I have to believe, had something to do with those changes.”
During the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in 2015, Alahverdian was able to persuade the mayor of an American city with a history of genocide denial to issue a proclamation commemorating “Armenian Centennial Remembrance Day”. While the Proclamation omitted the word “genocide”, Alahverdian was instrumental in securing the legislative and executive support necessary to secure the issuance of the proclamation. Alahverdian later expressed frustration that a centennial anniversary was being commemorated but the fact that a genocide occurred was not acknowledged. Alahverdian told reporters that "I think the most important thing to remember here is that the Pope recognized this as the first genocide of the 21st century. We are not dealing with a shooting or a bombing, we're dealing with the killing of 1.5 million people.”
Alahverdian featured on the cover of The Newport Daily News
Alahverdian sued the DCYF, former Rhode Island governor Donald Carcieri, the states of Nebraska, and Florida, the group homes, and others because of the part they allegedly played in allowing the documented abuse in the Rhode Island, Nebraska, and Florida treatment centers to go on without investigation. When Alahverdian attempted to enter a state courthouse to obtain documents for his federal lawsuit, he was prevented from accessing the court clerk's office and allegedly assaulted by a courthouse deputy. According to CBS News affiliate WPRI, a witness stated, "I saw the officer’s elbow and forearm pull back and then quickly thrust forward causing him (Alahverdian) to cry out."
The Boston Globe reported that U.S. District Judge John J. McConnell called the first hearing with the parties in the case in June 2011. In December 2011, McConnell held another hearing where Alahverdian stated: "America can’t be America unless the requirements of a state law called the Children’s Bill of Rights are met and individual freedom and independence prevail."
WPRI and The Providence Journal reported that Alahverdian was supported by two State Representatives, Doreen Costa and Michael Chippendale, when the State of Rhode Island sent Alahverdian a bill for $207,000.00 for medical care he received while in DCYF foster care. The Executive Office for Health and Human Services sent Alahverdian through his attorney a letter claiming Alahverdian owed the state money if a settlement agreement with the state defendants was reached. Costa and Chippendale held a press conference to express their anger with the DCYF and support for Alahverdian. Rep. Costa said that the state should be ashamed for “sending a foster kid a bill”. Costa and Chippendale also announced legislative initiatives to prevent what happened to Alahverdian from happening to other foster care alumni in the future.
In October 2012, Alahverdian gave an interview to the Rhode Island PBS Viewpoint program where he was joined by musician, journalist, and advocate Rudy Cheeks of The Providence Phoenix. Cheeks compared Alahverdian's living under the DCYF foster care system to living in the Soviet Union because Alahverdian was unable to speak out, obtain a formal education, or contact the state legislators for whom he once worked while he was sent to Nebraska and Florida.
Aside from the civil case, to date only a handful of the employees who tortured and raped Alahverdian were prosecuted. Most notably is a worker from the Florida facility who admitted to sexual battery and was sentenced to prison.
In May 2011, State Rep. Rene Menard introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives honoring Alahverdian for "fighting for the rights and privileges of children and adolescents in state care", being "an outspoken advocate for abandoned, abused, and neglected children", and doing his utmost for the "protection of rights for youth in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations."
Following several incidents of DCYF abuse as reported in 2013, columnists from The Providence Phoenix asserted that those in power in Rhode Island listen to Nicholas Alahverdian and his legislative ideas so that foster care abuse and deaths can be prevented.
In August 2013, the federal case was settled. Settlement details with the private corporations that own the facilities were not disclosed.
Alahverdian had discussed the Trust set up by the federal court in an interview with WPRO News reporter Steve Klamkin. CBS News affiliate WPRI 12 reported that The Nicholas Edward Alahverdian Trust was approved by Judge John J. McConnell and that an abuse hotline, academic scholarship, and drop-in center will be established in his name. WPRI also reported that Alahverdian settled with the state in exchange for the state waiving a $206,918 lien against him for medical care he received while in state care.
On February 12, 2015, the legislation prohibiting out of state placements was reintroduced in the Rhode Island Senate at the initiative of Alahverdian.
In April 2017, Alahverdian was a guest columnist in The Providence Journal, America's oldest continuously published daily newspaper, where he called for an auditing of unnecessary expenditures, an increase in frontline staff, and investing in state-of-the-art case management software.
Also in April 2017, Alahverdian was invited to testify before the House of Representatives Finance Committee on DCYF finances, management practices, and staffing deficits.
In October 2018 during the 2018 Rhode Island gubernatorial election, Alahverdian called for incumbent Governor Gina Raimondo to withdraw from the race. Raimondo, according to Alahverdian and substantiated by multiple news reports concerning child fatalities and near-fatalities, was responsible for a 1,450% increase in deaths or near-deaths of children in state custody. Alahverdian stated: "In 2008, DCYF investigated reports of the death of a child in their care. In 2003, we saw the tragic death of T.J. Wright. Within a five year timespan, we had two investigations of DCYF-related deaths,” said Alahverdian. In the Chafee administration from 2011 to 2015, there were no child deaths. Yet under Gina Raimondo, we as a state have to take a seat and say to ourselves ‘within 4 years there have been over 30 deaths or near-deaths.'"
Also in October 2018, Alahverdian called for the Rhode Island General Assembly to pass legislation that has been pending for nearly a decade. The Administration for Children and Families, a division of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, ordered DCYF to improve in 33 of 36 areas assessed. The federal report noted that DCYF services were "inadequate, not developed when needed, or lacked consistent monitoring." Alahverdian stated "For three decades, we have seen reports nearly identical to this one: child deaths, an increase in caseloads, low staff morale, severe child abuse marked as “information” cases — cases that will not be investigated and that are only solely meant for taking reports and not conducting an investigation — and comprehensive pandemonium within the DCYF." Harvard Kennedy School professor and former Obama Admininstration official Jeffrey Liebman agreed with Alahverdian and claimed that the DCYF is "the most messed-up agency ever." Alahverdian remarked that his comprehensive DCYF reform legislation, supported by Reps. Ray Hull, Roberto DaSilva, Arthur Handy, Michael Marcello, Anastasia P. Williams and many others would provide the solutions to the problems that ACF claimed DCYF needed to solve.
The Orphan Chronicles
In October 2019, Nicholas Alahverdian announced that he was working on several volumes of memoirs called The Orphan Chronicles that will cover his life in DCYF care, simultaneously working for the state government, legislative advocacy, life and times at Harvard University, and how he persevered from foster care to the Ivy League. The first volume, Dreading and Hoping All, was released in late October 2019. This volume covers his experiences in Rhode Island, including the beginning of his political career as a legislative aide and a page, as well as being sent to the Florida placement.
In January 2020, multiple news agencies revealed that Alahverdian had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In an interview with Steve Klamkin of WPRO News following the diagnosis, Alahverdian expressed his desire to highlight the urgent need to improve the troubled RI DCYF. Alahverdian expressed his displeasure with Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s lack of leadership at the agency, especially since it is once again without a permanent Director since the forced resignation of Raimondo appointee Trista Piccola. Piccola presided during a two-year period which saw the death or near-deaths of 31 children, high staff turn-over rates, votes of no confidence, and high budget deficits.
Alahverdian told Klamkin that “It’s a mistake to try to look at what DCYF is going to look like ten years from now. For DCYF to be improved, it has to start today, it has to start with the social worker, it has to start at the initial steps, where there is pride at the agency as opposed to the overburdened social workers that we see today.” NBC 10 News reported that "In 2020," Alahverdian "remains critical of the state agency (RI DCYF), which has struggled with budget deficits and the safety of children." In an interview with NBC, Alahverdian said "It's going to take willpower, energy and effective management to provide for the overhaul of the department."
In February 2020, Rhode Island State Representative Ray Hull introduced another bill to create a DCYF legislative oversight commission in honor of Alahverdian. Hull told The Providence Journal that "I’ve known Nick since he was a young kid, and now he’s sick. I’m delighted to put this in because we have seen so much turmoil at DCYF over the last couple of years." Hull was referring to Alahverdian's cancer diagnosis earlier in 2020. WPRI reported that the bill would permit "The speaker of the House to appoint nine state representatives to the commission, and they would investigate any unconstitutional or unethical procedures at DCYF that put children in harm’s way. A report would be due from the commission next May." Alahverdian told ABC 6 News that "DCYF has been fatally flawed and plagued with problems for decades. I've lived it, I grew up with it, and it's time for it to change." Representative Hull added "If you look at the turmoil in DCYF and what may be happening to other children, it's more than adequate to push it forward now."
During an interview with The Providence Journal, Nicholas Alahverdian said, "an oversight commission would give legislators the authority, power and privilege to investigate DCYF in a way that has never been before." Co-sponsors of the bill included Reps. John J. Lombardi, David Bennett, and James N. McLaughlin. WPRI noted that "During his time as a page and legislative aide for the Rhode Island General Assembly, Alahverdian provided insight into the abusive and negligent practices by DCYF. The proposed commission was created in his honor."
In an interview with WPRI about the proposed legislation, Alahverdian said “The policy of this bill is the safety of children at every cost. The aim of this bill is adequate education and housing for children in the care of the state. People may ask at what cost. We say at any cost, for the life of a child in a system with a $220 million budget deserves at the very least food, schooling and stable shelter, and if possible, a family life. We must never give up, and I certainly won’t.”
The Associated Press, U.S. News & World Report, and other news agencies reported that Nicholas Alahverdian died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma on February 29, 2020, leaving his wife and two children. His wife told WPRI News that "He lived a warrior’s life. A fighter in spirit, but a peacemaker in practice. He overcame significant abuse and harmful living conditions." Alahverdian's remains were cremated and scattered at sea.
On Tuesday March 3, 2020, Representative Raymond Hull gave a speech on the floor of the Rhode Island House of Representatives in commemoration of the work and life of Alahverdian. In his speech, Hull said "I'd like to adjourn in the memory of my friend, Nicholas Alahverdian, who had a battle with cancer. A very, very smart individual when I started here some eight years ago, and I say this on purpose, and I say this to you young people that are standing there: have passion in what you do and never give up on it. He had that. And it touched me to be honored to get up to say something on his behalf today, because he believed in something that happened to him, and he looked forward to the change in DCYF. I ask that all my colleagues remember him. God bless."
After Representative Hull's remarks, the House of Representatives unanimously voted to adjourn in memory of Nicholas Alahverdian "as a further mark of respect." The motion was made by Representative Hull and seconded by House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi and Minority Leader Blake Filippi. A moment of silence followed prior to the adjournment.
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Solemn Affairs: Representations of Humility, Brevity and Dignity in the Gettysburg Address (2018)
Ignoble Inferno (2018)
Dreading and Hoping All (Volume I of The Orphan Chronicles) (2019)
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