PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) has faced devastating assessments in the recent past, following the death of a child last year for which the agency was found to be partly to blame.
Four state lawmakers are now proposing an emergency oversight commission to investigate and watch over the operation of the troubled agency.
The speaker of the House would appoint nine state representatives to the commission, and they would investigate any unconstitutional or unethical procedures at DCYF that put children in harm’s way. A report would be due from the commission in May 2021.
State Reps. Ray Hull, D-North Providence, John Lombardi, D-Providence, David Bennett, D-Warwick, and James McLaughlin, D-Cumberland, proposed the commission in a bill filed last Friday, H.7639.
Nicholas Alahverdian, who went through the DCYF system himself and now advocates for its reform, pushed for the creation of the commission.
During his time as a page and legislative aide for the Rhode Island General Assembly, Alahverdian provided insight into the abusive and negligent practices by DCYF.
Alahverdian was recently diagnosed with late-stage non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and the proposed commission was created in his honor.
“The policy of this bill is the safety of children at every cost,” he said in a statement. “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.”
Eyewitness News has contacted DCYF officials for a comment on the bill but has not yet heard back.
Last June, a report by the state Office of the Child Advocate found DCYF was partly to blame for the death of 9-year-old Zhanae Rothgeb, who had been found face down in the bathtub of the home of her adoptive mother, Michele Rothgeb, earlier in the year. The Child Advocate’s recommendations included stronger verification, evaluation and training for foster parents.
The director of the DCYF appointed by Gov. Gina Raimondo in 2017, Trista Piccola, said the following month that she would be leaving her post because her husband was taking a job out of state.
Then, in August, DCYF hired 23 more staff members in an effort to address concerns.
This article has been updated to reflect that a report would be due from the commission in May 2021, not January as previously stated.