Nicholas Alahverdian

House Members Introduce Bill to Create Emergency DCYF Oversight Commission

February 17, 2020

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — On Friday February 14, 2020, a House Resolution was proposed with an aim to increase legislative oversight of the troubled Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) by Representatives Raymond Hull, (D-North Providence), John Lombardi (D-Providence), David Bennett (D-Warwick), and James McLaughlin (D-Cumberland). The legislation was introduced at the initiative of longtime DCYF reform advocate Nicholas Alahverdian.

If passed, the resolution will create an ad hoc nine-member legislative commission that would have the power, right, and privilege to investigate the Department, which has been plagued with problems for the past three decades. The commission will investigate past and present systemic DCYF abuse, negligence, and failures, which have skyrocketed under the Raimondo administration.

Under her tenure, DCYF was led by the statutorily unqualified Jamia McDonald (state law requires the DCYF Director to have a masters degree in social work, a credential McDonald did not hold) and Trista Piccola, who resigned after calls to do so by Reps. Charlene Lima (D-Cranston) and Patricia Serpa (D-Warwick) following the death of Zha-Nae Rothgeb as well as 32 fatalities or near-fatalities of children in DCYF care. For comparison, during the Chafee, Carcieri, and Almond administrations, there was one child fatality. Additionally, the federal government has indicated that DCYF has failed to achieve minimal standards in 33 of 36 areas assessed.

Nicholas Alahverdian has been at the forefront of DCYF reform for nearly two decades. He was recently diagnosed with late-stage non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Alahverdian served as a page and a legislative aide in the Rhode Island General Assembly from 2002-2003 and was simultaneously in the care of the DCYF due to his abusive parents. He was able to provide insight into the abusive and negligent practices such as the night-to-night program and the lack of adequate facilities of the Department to senators and representatives.

Alahverdian subsequently took a leave of absence as a General Assembly employee to become a lobbyist to further his advocacy.  Deemed a publicity threat as a result of his advocacy, he was then sent by DCYF to two out of state placements in Nebraska and Florida where he was raped, beaten, and allowed no contact with the outside world until his 18th birthday. He later attended Harvard University and had a career as a lobbyist and government relations consultant.

In 2011, Alahverdian began a lengthy legal and political battle against DCYF, filing legislation in coalition led by Rep. Bob DaSilva to reform DCYF, end out of state placements, and create a DCYF oversight committee, three bills which were supported by the majority of the members of the House of Representatives but failed to get out of committee. In federal court, he also sued the DCYF as well as the group homes where the abuse occurred. The case was ultimately settled in 2013.

Regarding the bill, Alahverdian said “The policy of this bill is 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 bill can be found at the Rhode Island General Assembly website by clicking here.