PROVIDENCE, R.I. — If anyone is to blame for the current pandemonium at the seemingly irremediable Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), it is undoubtedly Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Governor Gina Raimondo, according to Harvard-trained political scientist and veteran lobbyist Nicholas Alahverdian.
“This is very personal for me,” said Nicholas Alahverdian. “I was a legislative aide for the House of Representatives at the same time I was in the night-to-night program. I was hurt in the group homes and shelters, and legislators saw the bruises and cuts and decided something needed to be done.”
Nicholas Alahverdian infuriated then-Governor Donald Carcieri, former DCYF Director Jay Lindgren, and now-deceased Family Court Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah to the point where he was considered a publicity threat. They had received too many calls from the media and from lawmakers advocating on his behalf. Alahverdian was sent far away from Rhode Island and not allowed to contact anyone for two years. He wasn’t even allowed outside to feel fresh air.
Nicholas Alahverdian was tortured, raped, and abused in two facilities — Boys Town in Nebraska and Manatee Palms in Florida, both of which were shut by their respective states for abuse and negligence after he was discharged.
Alahverdian then returned to Rhode Island. He was overmedicated. Nicholas was a vegetable. He could’t read or write. But slowly, Alahverdian regained his ability to comprehend what the Rhode Island State House was. And what it stood for.
Within four years Nicholas Alahverdian was admitted to Harvard University. He had regained his love for learning. And he began to have painful memories of his political activism and subsequent abuse. Alahverdian filed a lawsuit against his abusers and went on a legislative advocacy blitz.
In light of the recent USHHS Agency for Children and Families report, Nicholas Alahverdian noticed that the legislation — which was supported by over 50% of the House Chamber as co-sponsors — could have solved some of the problems highlighted by the federal government.
DCYF has been mismanaged for decades. Nicholas Alahverdian and his team proffered legislative solutions. They were shot down by Speaker Mattiello and Governor Raimondo’s policy team.
The iniquitous practice of a single person — the Speaker — being able to block a bill supported by the majority of the chamber is barbarous. “We had legislation that would have been effective,” Nicholas Alahverdian said. “Every child would be ensured an in-state placement, a copy of an enhanced children’s bill of rights, and contact with family, clergy, or lawyers during business hours. These solutions were shot down by Speaker Mattiello and Governor Raimondo.”
Alahverdian continued: “DCYF construes itself as immune from criticism. This is especially true when that criticism comes from someone who has been battling them for decades as a victim of DCYF.”
Nicholas Alahverdian and so many others — former Reps. Joanne Giannini, Bob DaSilva, current Reps. Ray Hull, David Bennett, Anastasia Williams, Brian Newberry and more — have been fighting to reform this broken, diabolical, “most messed-up agency in America” (according to Harvard Kennedy School Professor Jeffrey Liebman) for over two decades. Surely it’s not for their lack of trying.
“The ACF report would be different if Speaker Mattiello actually listened to what members of the House wanted,” Nicholas Alahverdian said. “Abuse could have been prevented if the Governor’s staff took time to listen to my ideas instead of being intimidated by asking to be placed on hold for an appointment instead of waiting for a call back that I knew after ten years of dealing with bureaucrats would never come.”
DCYF is not a priority for Speaker Mattiello and Governor Raimondo. If we want safer kids in Rhode Island, it’s time for them to go.