As I’ve grown older, my Christmases have become progressively better. Usually it’s the other way around. People tend to experience that magical feeling next to a tree decorated with glittery, beautiful ornaments best when they are young. But when one grows up in DCYF (Department of Children, Youth & Families) care, it’s a nightmare.
I was a kid in DCYF care. Some would say orphan. Others would say “ward of the state.” It was a horrible situation, especially for me, because I would end up dealing with even worse abuse than most other kids because I reported the abusive practices of what was going on in the state social service system to my legislators and other state officials since I worked with them. But we shall save that story for another time.Continue reading The Unopened Christmas Gift
About: Nicholas Alahverdian is a victim of torture perpetrated upon him by group homes and shelters who contracted with the Rhode Island State Government to provide services for children in the care of the Department of Children Youth and Families. Nicholas simultaneously worked for the Rhode Island General Assembly as a legislative aide.
As a 14-year-old legislative aide, I was sodomized and raped by a member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives. That person now wields formidable power. In light of the recent facts illuminated by the sexual harassment perpetrated by Cale Keable upon Katie Kazarian, I felt prompted to do what I never thought I would: bring the facts of this vicious and embarrassing assault upon me to the public eye.
I was degraded and humiliated by a person in power — and this culture of corruption in Rhode Island politics needs to stop. Katie Kazarian is leading the charge in exposing the moral attrition at the State House, and for that she deserves the utmost praise. But for myself, I go on and tell my story to those whom will listen. The most deplorable action we can take to address these endemic issues is none at all. I will be releasing details of the rape upon my person after the election. That way, no one can say ‘Nicholas Alahverdian did this for political advantage.’
Andrew Carnegie was the epitome of a philanthropist. The Wealth essay (also known as “The Gospel of Wealth”) is reminiscent of the belief that it is ethically advantageous to be poor in a rich nation than it is to be rich in a poor nation. Every age has faced the quarrel of wealth distribution, and the associated decisiveness is no small task to handle. From an ethical perspective, it is imperative that those who are more fortunate assist those in need. Continue reading Carnegie and Wealth
The question is: How does Nicholas Alahverdian, a smart kid from Rhode Island who wants desperately to go to school, end up instead in a place in Florida that features barbed wire, lockdowns and limited access to the outside world — all at a cost of $330 a day to the state he came from?
It might seem a crime would have to be involved, but there is no crime. There’s just a guy, now 23, who got caught up in Rhode Island’s child welfare system and ended up in places far from home where he couldn’t plead his case. The misery, Nicholas Alahverdian says, was compounded by beatings by other young residents of the deceptively named Manatee Palms Youth Services.
The story is one seldom heard, at least not as clearly and eloquently as Nicholas Alahverdian tells it. We hear little of those kids in state care who end up hundreds, even thousands of miles away in facilities that sometimes have complete control over their every move.
Nicholas Alahverdian is a friend of mine, and I’ve always been impressed by the mere fact of his survival. He has been stuck in a cruel system that could have left him one of the lost boys of Rhode Island. He has had brief tastes of normalcy mixed with hard stretches of pointless, spirit-sapping supervision. Now, he is going to college, trying to claim all those things denied him when his life was not his own.
Like many before him, Nicholas Alahverdian ended up in state care because his family couldn’t take care of him. He lists depression and posttraumatic stress disorder as his biggest problems. And once in the system, he found it is very hard to get out. He had some almost happy periods. There was a pretty good group home in Providence where he lived while attending Hope High School. There was a foster home that looked like it could be a long-term place to live until the foster parents decided they couldn’t make the commitment.
“It’s scary, ridiculously scary. There are punks in there; they took my sneakers, my clothing. I was threatened, assaulted. I saw kids hit each other with hockey sticks.
“You wake up in the morning at 5:30 and you go to the DCYF building and wait to see where you’re going to go the next night.
“You’re not in school and I love school. You’re not associating with friends. You’re not treated decently. And how can your parents know where you are.”
Night-to-night placement was, by anybody’s standards, a disaster. It was kid-dumping on the move. Long empty days would begin at a DCYF building in Pawtucket and end in one of the shelters scattered throughout the state — Woonsocket, Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket, Narragansett.
“I never learned how to be a kid,” said Nicholas Alahverdian.
The incredible and frightening thing about Nicholas Alahverdian’s story is that once he was past night-tonight placement, he was subjected to something even worse. At our first meeting, he was enthused about his work as a page and an aide at the State House. He seemed to have the worst behind him. But he didn’t.
“Night-to-night was like Disney-land compared to Manatee Palms,” he said.
On Tuesday at noon, he is planning to hold a news conference in the State House Rotunda to talk about what has happened to him and what he is doing to try to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. He will discuss the legislation he has been working on.
The bill he has worked on for a long time is basically his response to the horror story he had to live for too long. It would put safeguards in place to prevent kids from being sent to places far harsher and more restrictive than they need to be.
“Kids need school, not confinement,” Nicholas Alahverdian said.
He calls for a compliance officer to be put in place to protect the right of children in state care to be placed in the least restrictive environment possible. And thorough research would have to be conducted into all facilities being considered for out-of-state placements to make sure they comply with Rhode Island law.
The right to contact a lawyer, call a help line, or contact a family member would be guaranteed. While DCYF officials stress that such contact is always guaranteed, Nicholas Alahverdian says he was denied outside contact at Manatee Palms and Boys Town in Nebraska, where he was sent earlier.
Every kid in the system would get a copy of the Children’s Bill of Rights.
The decision to come out now and tell the story, to put classes at Harvard on hold for a semester so that he can lobby for the legislation, means there will be a smart public voice asking the questions seldom asked about the way DCYF deals with kids.
Stephanie Terry, associate director of Child Welfare Services for DCYF, says Nicholas Alahverdian makes some legitimate points.
“We’re in the midst of trying to get away from residential care,” said Terry. “It doesn’t normalize; it makes things more difficult. If you tell a child when to eat, when to go to bed, how can they come out of that and know how to deal with life?”
She has a simple explanation for why kids are sent out of state. They are sent out of state because their needs cannot be met in state. But Rep. Roberto DaSilva, who represents East Providence and Pawtucket, said that he will introduce legislation by the March 3 deadline to end all out-of-state placements. He says there are resources here to provide the necessary treatment and he has talked with providers willing to do that.
While she said she can’t comment directly on Alahverdian’s case, Terry said that DCYF stopped using Manatee Palms, a 60-bed psychiatric facility in Bradenton, in 2005.
“There were concerns we had with the way they were treating our kids,” she said.
In 2004, the state paid Manatee Palms $49,468. In 2005, it paid $274,002. Since then, the facility has twice been closed by the State of Florida because of “hurtful behavior” by staff.
Nicholas Alahverdian got there on Sept. 9, 2004, and stayed for eight months. He figures his tab at about $85,000.
He remembers the lobby was beautiful. Once inside, he saw holes punched in the walls and heard constant screaming.
“I was a geek nerd who wanted to read.”
He said he was assaulted almost every day. He finally got out, he said, after Pat Chabot, a DCYF social worker, visited and realized how bad the situation was. Rhode Island Family Court finally intervened.
Nicholas Alahverdian has “aged out” of the system. His resilience is stunning. He has been through two out-of-state placements — Boys Town in Nebraska, which was a bust, and Manatee Palms, which was a nightmare. He thinks part of the reason he was sent far away is because he kept challenging the system here at home.
“The problem here was, I was consistently informative, a source of information on DCYF.”
He just wanted to go to school, he said, and he can’t understand why that couldn’t have been arranged in the state he grew up in. He will probably never get a real explanation.
We can only hope that Nicholas Alahverdian is one of the last of the Rhode Island kids sent away and cut off from home. DCYF is changing, Terry says. For one thing, night-tonight placement is never, ever coming back. And while there are currently 27 kids in out-of-state placement, more than half are in Massachusetts and Connecticut. And some placements are made with the knowledge of family members living close to facilities in other states.
“You can’t make behavioral changes in children and not work with the family at the same time,” said Terry.
Over the past 24 hours, Rhode Island Public Radio and The Boston Globe reported that longtime columnist Bob Kerr was called into a conference room in The Providence Journal’s Fountain Street bunker-like headquarters and informed of his dismissal and the details of his severance package.
The more than 43 years of impeccable journalism and commentary produced by one man and cherished by thousands of readers across Southern New England dissipated in ten minutes, merely a formality than an expression of gratitude or thanksgiving.