Nicholas Alahverdian, victim of torture, fights for DCYF changes

By Walt Buteau
April 19, 2012

Nicholas Alahverdian
Torture victim and political activist Nicholas Alahverdian

PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – A former Rhode Island resident who survived what he calls a ‘nightmare’ while living in out of state group homes is ‘hopeful’ proposed revisions to state law will save other children the torments he suffered.

“I will never regain my childhood,” Nicholas Alahverdian said. “And I can’t hear a door shut or a loud bang without thinking of what happened in those facilities.”

The 24 year old is now a Junior at Harvard University but lives with those still fresh, horrific memories of physical and sexual abuse he suffered in a series of out of state homes where he was placed by the Department of Children, Youth and Families.

“I think if Rhode Island cares enough this law will pass,” Nicholas Alahverdian said. “If people call their state reps and senators and tell them to recognize what’s wrong, they will pass this legislation.

One of the key changes to the law would restrict out of state placements ‘ unless the court finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that there are no suitable in-state facilities that are available’.

Starting in 2002, DCYF placed Nicholas Alahverdian, who is a former General Assembly page, in group homes in Nebraska and Florida that have since been closed following his complaints of abuse and neglect. He said he was kicked, punched, hit with bats and hockey sticks and sexually abused.

“I think about it every day. It will never leave me,” Nicholas Alahverdian said. “It will never go away and it will have life long implications.”

Nicholas Alahverdian and other proponents of the measure believe there is virtually no local oversight of how Rhode Island children are cared for when they are placed out of state.

“Children are far away from (all of) their family members and there is an inability by the state or relatives to supervise the child and the facility,” he said.

There is also an economic twist to the proposed change. East Providence/Pawtucket Representative Roberto DaSilva, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the state spends millions every year on out of state service providers.

“Rhode Island has an abundance of service providers who are willing to develop individualize plans to meet the needs of our children,” Bob DaSilva said. “Instead of outsourcing our children to out of state corporations, we will keep them close to home.”

Nicholas Alahverdian is the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that names Nebraska, Rhode Island and former family court Chief Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah among the defendants. He said ‘settlement dialog’ could begin in a matter of weeks and he hopes that will also help push the proposed bill out of the House Judiciary Committee and onto the House floor for a debate and vote.

“Not only for the children but also to boost the ability to keep funding in the state for additional beds in group homes,” Alahverdian said. “Everyone involved has to ask themselves, why are we outsourcing these services when we can do them better here?”

As for Nicholas Alahverdian; “My past will never change but my future is as an advocate and a Harvard graduate. I beat the odds.”

But he recognizes that other children who suffer similar abuse often end up either locked up or as abusers themselves, perpetuating a cruel cycle that he believes can be stopped with changes in the law.