By Bob Kerr
Published April 20, 2012 in The Providence Journal
It’s hard to understand why my friend Nick Alahverdian’s story hasn’t resonated with more people and led to more needed changes. Perhaps it’s because he has been too much his own advocate, worked the State House too diligently, been too articulate in defining the state’s failures.
One thing is certain: What happened to Alahverdian in the name of child protection should never happen to any kid ever. He was denied a substantial chunk of his childhood. He was put in night-to-night placement by the Department of Children, Youth and Families, a practice so hideously abusive and stifling that it would seem better fit to a Charles Dickens novel than to 21st century Rhode Island.
Then, for reasons never really explained, he was shipped far out of state to facilities in Florida and Nebraska that were nightmares. There was serious abuse, he said.
Think about it. A kid who wanted nothing more than to go to school is put in DCYF care because his family can’t take care of him. And he is not only denied his education, he is put in places far away where he is physically abused, has no chance to go to school, and in some cases is shut off from outside contact. Remember, there is no crime here. There is just the extreme misfortune of being placed in state care and being denied a voice in his future.
He has always suspected that he was sent out of state because he was so outspoken about the horrors of night-to-night placement. He had been a page and an aide at the Rhode Island State House before his exile, and he was not reluctant to point out the hard lessons learned from his DCYF experience.
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.
And there 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.
And there is the lawsuit brought by Alahverdian in federal court against the State of Rhode Island, DCYF and several of its officials and former Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah, who ordered the out-of-state placements. There has yet to be a ruling in the case by U.S. District Judge John J. McConnell.
But 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 in 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.
If nothing else, he says, he would like an apology from the state. Surely, he and a bunch of other young survivors deserve one. The person delivering the apology would probably have to come from those state officials who agree that it is bad public policy to screw up kids’ lives.