Nicholas Alahverdian: A Profile in Courage

Nicholas Alahverdian, DCYF, Abuse
Nicholas Alahverdian giving a speech

Nicholas Alahverdian

Alahverdian first came to national attention in 2011. An Associated Press investigation revealed that the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) was spending millions of taxpayer dollars sending foster children and orphans out of state to facilities that were often abusive, dangerous, and ordered closed by their respective state officials.

Nicholas Alahverdian, at age 15, was sent to two facilities – one in Nebraska and one in Florida – and both were shut down by respective state officials after he left because of serious abuse.[6][7][8][9]

He was hired as a legislative aide for the Rhode Island House of Representatives at age 14 and was an orphan in the custody of the Department of Children, Youth and Families. He later attended Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

1. Background and Family

1.1 Family

Alahverdian was born in Providence, Rhode Island on July 11, 1987. His great-grandparents, Hagop and Agavne Alahverdian, survived the Armenian Genocide and immigrated to the United States in 1923 to escape attacks and killings from Ottoman Turks.

They eventually settled in the Smith Hill neighborhood in Providence with the assistance of the Krikorian family who had already become active in the community. Hagop was a successful businessman and community leader, and the Alahverdian family joined the Krikorians and other Armenians to help establish Smith Hill, where they are honored with a stone bearing the inscription of the family name in the Armenian Heritage Park.

Nicholas Alahverdian
Nicholas Alahverdian

1.2 Adolescence

Nicholas Alahverdian expressed an early interest in politics, attending a meeting of the Cranston City Council in April 2002 as a 14-year-old high school freshman. The auditorium was crowded with an estimated 900 furious taxpayers upset over a threat of state control of the city’s financial department and budget deficits. In the face of boos, Alahverdian spoke in defense of the city council and first-term mayor. In The Providence Journal, reporter Mark Arsenault wrote:

Nicholas 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.

After a short time lobbying for educational issues, Nicholas Alahverdian was hired by Rep. Gordon Fox (who later went on to become Speaker of the House) as a page and then as a legislative aide for the House of Representatives.[19] At the same time, his family began to fall apart and he was sent to live in shelters and group homes in what was called the “night-to-night” program, facilitated by DCYF. 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.[10]

Nicholas Alahverdian, Gordon Fox, Speaker of the House
Nicholas Alahverdian and former Speaker Gordon Fox

Because Nicholas Alahverdian was abused and neglected by his peers and employees of the shelters while he was employed by the Rhode Island House of Representatives, he was able to inform lawmakers of the attacks.[21] Kerr compared night-to-night to “a practice so hideously abusive and stifling that it would seem better fit to a Charles Dickens novel than to 21st century Rhode Island.”[22]

Nicholas Alahverdian quit his job as a legislative aide in later in 2002 and became one of the youngest registered lobbyists in the history of the state. As he began to testify more frequently at hearings and talk to more legislators about the issues surrounding DCYF, questions from legislators and inquiries from the press were constantly directed toward the chief judge of the Family Court, Jeremiah S. Jeremiah.[23]

Joanne Giannini, Nicholas Alahverdian
Nicholas Alahverdian sits for an interview about Representative Joanne Giannini, one of Nicholas’ strongest advocates in the Rhode Island State House

Nicholas Alahverdian was also featured in a column entitled ‘A survivor tells the story of kid dumping’ by The Providence Journal’s Bob Kerr where he described what it was like living in the ‘night-to-night’ program and working at the Rhode Island State House.[10]

Buddy Cianci, Nicholas Alahverdian, Nicholas Alahverdian, Alahverdian, Harvard,
Nicholas Alahverdian appeared on WPRO’s The Buddy Cianci Show with former Providence, R.I. Mayor Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci, Jr. several times

A one point, a state representative went directly to Judge Jeremiah and offered to adopt Nicholas Alahverdian, as documented in a September 2012 interview when former State Rep. Brian Coogan told The Buddy Cianci Show on Newstalk 630 WPRO and reported[23] that he was one of the lawmakers that initially discovered the abuse and offered to adopt Nick. He said he saw Nicholas Alahverdian show up to the State House bruised and beaten and then go to testify before different legislative committees and commissions.

Nicholas Alahverdian was then placed by DCYF in facilities in Nebraska and then Florida, where his communication with the outside world was restricted.[12]

2. Work as a Lobbyist

Nicholas Alahverdian joined Pawtucket Police Captain and State Rep. Roberto DaSilva at a press conference in March 2011 to reveal a bipartisan legislative plan to spark reform at DCYF.[24] Rep. Bob DaSilva’s bill[25] would have kept youth in the state of Rhode Island, limiting out of state placements, such as those suffered by Alahverdian.

Nicholas Alahverdian, Bob DaSilva, Roberto DaSilva
Former Rep. Bob DaSilva and Nicholas Alahverdian

In a State House press release issued by Rep. Bob DaSilva, Nicholas Alahverdian said “This legislation will ensure that taxpayer dollars are not funding abuse and neglect across state lines. More importantly, we can use the money that is being wasted on out-of-state facilities here in Rhode Island which would provide an economic boost to the state.”[26] Bob DaSilva called Nicholas Alahverdian an “inspiration” and said he was determined to stop the practice that was costing millions of dollars, even as Rhode Island was removing children from their families at twice the national average.[27][28] In particular, the bill outright barred treatment facilities unless necessary services were proven to not exist in Rhode Island.[29][30]

Representative DaSilva’s claims that Rhode Island was paying “hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more” to house children in state care was subjected to a PolitiFact.com analysis that found that the state didn’t spend just “hundreds of thousands” of dollars, but was expecting to spend $10 million in fiscal year 2012.[31]

Further investigation was conducted into the issue and it was learned that Rhode Island providers were willing to provide allegedly unavailable services. One provider came forward and offered to develop a program that met the needs of DCYF, but he was never contacted. The investigation also confirmed yet again that DCYF was planning on spending more than $10 million on out of state placements.[32]

Nicholas Alahverdian, Seamus Heaney, Nobel Prize, Harvard
Seamus Heaney and Nicholas Alahverdian

Rep. DaSilva introduced the “Nicholas’ Law” bill again 2012[33] but was not reelected when he chose to run for a state senate seat in the 2012 elections.

Alahverdian has drafted other legislation, including a resolution introduced by Rep. Arthur Handy (creating emergency DCYF oversight commission[34]) and a bill introduced by Rep. Michael Marcello that would guarantee the constitutional rights of children and adolescents in DCYF care[35]

Nicholas Alahverdian, House Finance Committee, Rhode Island, DCYF,
Nicholas Alahverdian testifying before the House Finance Committee at the State House

Nicholas Alahverdian was the founder of Nexus Government and has advocated for health and education reform and social justice legislation.[36][37] He combined data and budget analyses with his own experiences in DCYF care to inform the public of what taxpayers were funding.[38]

Nicholas Alahverdian took action against Governor Lincoln Chafee’s appointment to the position of Child Advocate, Regina Gibb, for being a former DCYF employee, testifying before a Senate committee that if she felt strongly about preventing child abuse and protecting children, she would have started doing so at DCYF.[39]

Alahverdian also successfully helped to block passage of a bill that would have given emeritus Family Court chief judge Jeremiah Jeremiah a special “emeritus judge license plate” because, Alahverdian felt, it was “against the best interests of the state.”[40]

Nicholas Alahverdian, Jeremiah S. Jeremiah, Judge Jeremiah, Rhode Island Family Court
Judge Jeremiah of the Rhode Island Family Court

Longtime Providence Journal columnist Bob Kerr said of Nicholas Alahverdian and his work 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.”[41]

On February 12, 2015, the legislation prohibiting out of state placements was reintroduced in the Rhode Island Senate at the initiative of Nicholas Alahverdian.[42] It was later withdrawn for unknown reasons.

3. Lawsuit

Nicholas Alahverdian sued the DCYF[43], former Rhode Island governor Donald Carcieri, the states of Nebraska and Florida, the group homes, and others for the part they played in allowing the documented,[6] serious abuse in state-owned and the Nebraska and Florida facilities to go on unabated.[7][44][9] While Nicholas initially filed suit on his own, Matthew Fabisch was later retained as lead counsel for the Plaintiff.

Nicholas Alahverdian, Matt Fabisch, Matthew Fabisch
Attorney Matthew L. Fabisch, Lead Counsel for Nicholas Alahverdian

The U.S. District Judge in the case was John J. McConnell, and he had his first conference in chambers with the parties involved in the case in June 2011.[45]

Rhode Island contracted with two facilities to which Alahverdian had been sent—one in Nebraska called Boys Town Residential Treatment Center and one in Florida called Manatee Palms Youth Services—that closed at various times, both before and after Alahverdian’s stays, by state officials because of serious abuse.[7][44][9][46] 

In response to the lawsuit, the state filed a lien against Alahverdian, and the Executive Office for Health and Human Services sent a letter claiming Alahverdian owed the state money for his past care should he reach a settlement agreement with the state defendants.[47][48]

Mike Chippendale, Nicholas Alahverdian, Doreen Costa, DCYF
Rep Michael Chippendale, Lobbyist Nicholas Alahverdian, and Rep. Doreen Costa at the Rhode Island State House Press Conference on DCYF

Rep. Doreen Costa and Rep. Michael Chippendale held a news conference to lambaste the department and criticize what Costa called “sending a foster kid a bill.”[49] They also announced legislative initiatives to prevent this from happening in the future.[50] The case was ultimately settled in August 2013.[51][52][53]

Settlement details with the private corporations that own the facilities were not disclosed.[54]  

Nicholas Alahverdian has a trust fund set up by the U.S. District Court-ordered settlement to ensure Alahverdian’s assets and future are protected[55] called The Nicholas Edward Alahverdian Trust”[56] and an entity called the Alahverdian Management Company[57] that own and manage taxable, for-profit assets that benefit the Trust. He has discussed the Trust in an interview with WPRO’s Steve Klamkin.[58]

Nicholas Alahverdian
Nicholas Alahverdian

5. References

1  Klepper, David (August 14, 2011). “RI pays millions to send foster kids out of state“. The New Haven Register. Retrieved 9 May 2015.

2  Klepper, David (August 14, 2011). “RI pays millions to send foster kids out of state”. Erie Times-News. Retrieved May 11, 2015.

3  Klepper, David (August 15, 2011). “State under fire for exporting foster children”. Newport Daily News. Retrieved May 11, 2015.

4  Buteau, Walt “Victim of abuse works for DCYF overhaul” WPRI CBS 12

5  Ruggles, Rick. “State says Boys Town staffers violated child-treatment rules”. omaha.com. Omaha World Herald. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

6  Fields, Robin (May 7, 2010). “Florida Regulators Stop Admissions to Troubled Youth Facilities”. ProPublica. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

7  Wolfdrum, Timothy (May 6, 2010). “State slams Manatee Palms psychiatric hospital – Agency: Psychiatric hospital unsafe, poorly managed“. The Bradenton Herald. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

8  Kerr, Bob (24 November 2002). “A survivor tells the story of kid dumping“. The Providence Journal. p. C-01 accessdate=May 10, 2015.

9  Buteau, Walt (April 19, 2012). “Abuse victim fights for DCYF changes“. WPRI.com. CBS News. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

10  Heller, Mathias (February 9, 2012). “Legislation spotlights domestic abuse“. The Brown Daily Herald. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

11  * Kerr, Bob (April 20, 2012). “A hard lesson in what a state can do to a kid“. The Providence Journal (Providence). p. 4. Retrieved May 1, 2012. Through intelligence and sheer will, he is now at Harvard. He knows that Cambridge is a much healthier place for him to be than anywhere in Rhode Island. But he points out he is an undergraduate at 24 because of the years that were taken away from him. He has suffered academically and socially.[dead link]

12  “Birth Records of Providence”. The Providence Journal. 29 July 1987. Retrieved May 9, 2015.

13  “Avedise E. Alahverdian”. The Providence Journal. 9 February 1995. Retrieved 9 May 2015.

14  Karentz, Varoujan (2004). Mitchnapert the Citadel: A History of Armenians in Rhode Island. Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse. p. 12. ISBN 0-595-30662-4.

15  Arsenault, Mark (April 9, 2002). “Taxpayers blast mayor, City Council”. The Providence Journal. p. A-01.

16  Grosch, Connie (May 16, 2002). “About the public’s business”. The Providence Journal. p. D-01.

17  “RI man’s lawsuit against DCYF goes to court“. The Boston Globe. 27 June 2011. Retrieved May 12, 2015.

18  Lindgren, Jay. “The Night-to-Night Placement of Youth: A Report to the Rhode Island House of Representatives” (PDF). http://www.dcyf.ri.gov. State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Retrieved May 12, 2015.

19  Buteau, Walt. “Street Stories: DCYF”. YouTube. WPRI. Retrieved 12 May 2015.

20  Kerr, Bob (April 20, 2012). “A hard lesson in what a state can do to a kid”. The Providence Journal. p. 4.

21  Alahverdian, Nicholas (September 29, 2012). An Interview with Nicholas Alahverdian and Call from Fmr. State Rep. Brian Coogan. Interview with Buddy Cianci. ‘’The Buddy Cianci Show. WPRO. Providence.

22  Mancinho, Shana (21 March 2011). “DaSilva bill keeps children under DCYF care in-state” (Press release). Providence, Rhode Island: State of Rhode Island General Assembly. Legislative Press Bureau. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

23  “An Act Relating to State Affairs and Government – Department of Children, Youth and Families” (PDF). State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. March 3, 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

24  Mancinho, Shana (21 March 2011). “DaSilva bill keeps children under DCYF care in-state” (Press release). Providence, Rhode Island: State of Rhode Island General Assembly. Legislative Press Bureau. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

25  Arditi, Lynn. “DCYF report: RI children placed in group care at nearly twice national average“. providencejournal.com. The Providence Journal. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

26  Lord, Peter. “Rep. DaSilva says R.I. pays hundreds of thousands of dollars for out-of-state care for children in state custody“. politifact.com. Politifact. Retrieved 4 April 2015.

27  “DaSilva reintroduces bill to keep children under DCYF care in state“. GoLocalProv. Retrieved 4 April 2015.

28  * Kerr, Bob (April 20, 2012). “A hard lesson in what a state can do to a kid”. The Providence Journal (Providence). p. 4. Retrieved May 1, 2012. [T]here is unfinished business in Rhode Island. There is a bill sponsored for the second time on his behalf by Rep. Roberto DaSilva of East Providence that would restrict out-of-state placement by DCYF to cases in which there is absolutely no one in Rhode Island who can provide the required services. DaSilva calls it common sense legislation that would save money and even create jobs.[dead link]

29  “Rep. DaSilva says R.I. pays hundreds of thousands of dollars for out-of-state care for children in state custody”. PolitiFact. April 8, 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

30  * Beale, Stephen (September 21, 2012). “DCYF Spends $10 Million Sending Kids Out of State“. GoLocalProv (Providence). Retrieved May 12, 2015. DaSilva was inspired to submit his bill by the story of Nicholas Alahverdian, who was in the state child welfare system from the ages of 12 to 18, spending some of that time in two out-of-state facilities where he allegedly suffered abuse and neglect. DaSilva said that it’s harder to monitor potential cases of abuse and neglect when a child resides out of state. “When a child is out of state where is that level of oversight?” DaSilva said. Alahverdian told GoLocalProv that it can be traumatic for a child or teenager to be moved so far away from his family, his school, and his friends. “Everything you know—every person you know—is erased. To have that happen at a young age … it can be traumatic,” Alahverdian said.

31 McCabe, Brenna (January 18, 2012). “DaSilva reintroduces bill to keep kids under DCYF care in-state” (Press release). Providence, Rhode Island: State of Rhode Island General Assembly. Legislative Press Bureau. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

32 “House Resolution Creating the Rhode Island House of Representatives Emergency Oversight Commission on the Department of Children, Youth, and Families” (PDF). State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. March 8, 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

33 “An Act Relating to State Affairs and Government – Department of Children, Youth and Families (would guarantee the constitutional, personal property, and civil rights of every child placed or treated under the supervision of the department of children, youth, and families in any public or private facility).”(PDF). State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. March 8, 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

34 Arditi, Lynn (March 22, 2011). “Bill would limit DCYF placements”. The Providence Journal.

35 “Secretary of State 2011 Final Report – Lobbyist: Nicholas Alahverdian”(PDF). State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. 17 July 2011. Retrieved 10 May 2015.

36 Jaehnig, Dan (1 March 2011). “Man claims he was abused in DCYF care“. NBC News. Retrieved 4 April 2015.

37 “Child advocate nomination moves forward to Senate”. The Providence Journal. March 30, 2011. p. 6.

38 “Amended bill would make Jeremiah pay for plate“. The Providence Journal. March 30, 2012. p. 6.

39 “Bob Kerr Column”. The Providence Journal. April 20, 2012. p. 4.

40 “An Act Relating to State and Government Affairs – Department of Children, Youth and Families” (PDF). Rhode Island General Assembly. State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

41 United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island. “Alahverdian v. Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families, Et Al.”. United States District Court. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

42 Fields, Robin (May 7, 2010). “Florida Regulators Stop Admissions to Troubled Youth Facilities”. ProPublica.

43 “RI man’s lawsuit against DCYF goes to court”. The Boston Globe. 27 June 2011. Retrieved May 12, 2015.

44 “RI man’s lawsuit against DCYF goes to court”. The Boston Globe. 27 June 2011. Retrieved 27 August 2013.

45 Buteau, Walt. “Former ward of state billed for medical care”. WPRI.com. CBS News. Retrieved 13 February 2015.

46 Buteau, Walt. “State bills former DCYF ward for medical care“. WPRI.com. CBS News. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

47 Buteau, Walt. “Former ward of state billed for medical care“. WPRI.com. CBSNews. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

48 Arditi, Lynn (29 September 2012). “Lawmakers Question Lien Note Sent To Orphan”. The Providence Journal.

49 “Civil Docket for Case #: 1:11-cv-00075-M”. United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

50 Buteau, Walt. “Suit against DCYF settled“. WPRI.com. CBS News. Retrieved 13 February 2015.

51 Arditi, Lynn (22 Aug 2013). “Settlement ends suit by former ward alleging abuse while in care of Rhode Island’s Department of Children, Youth and Families”. The Providence Journal. Retrieved 6 January 2015.

52 Arditi, Lynn (22 Aug 2013). “Settlement ends suit by former ward alleging abuse while in care of Rhode Island’s Department of Children, Youth and Families”. The Providence Journal. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

53 “Civil Docket for Case #: 1:11-cv-00075-M (Doc.102-1; pp. 686 et seq.”. United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island. Retrieved May 10,2015.

54  “The Nicholas Edward Alahverdian Trust”. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

55 “AMC”. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

56 Klamkin, Steve. “Steve Klamkin and the WPRO Morning News“. youtube.com. 630 WPRO/N Alahverdian. Retrieved May 10, 2015.