Saturday’s letters: Florida’s foster kids deserve a bill of rights

As a former youth in foster care, I have experienced firsthand the care of children in our state and how our childcare systems prepare youth for the transition from foster care to adulthood. While Florida has made great changes, a report recently released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows our outcomes are about the same as the national average. However, we want the best, not average. This report, Fostering Youth Transitions, includes comprehensive national data explaining how young people ages 14 and older are doing as they transition from foster care into adulthood.

I am from the foster care system and am the statewide chair of Florida Youth SHINE, a group of current and former foster youth advocates across Florida. We believe that in order to have better outcomes for children, they need to be more informed and understand their rights. In order to accomplish this, we need a Bill of Rights for kids in foster care. When I was in foster care I felt like I didn’t have a voice and I didn’t know who to talk to when I needed things. For example, seeing my sister was extremely important to me, yet when I would ask for visitation I would be told no without any reason. I felt defeated and voiceless. I found out later that Florida has a law that would require regular visitation and interaction with my sister. Being armed with the knowledge about my rights and the tools to advocate for myself makes me feel confident that I am improving the system for those who are coming behind me. All foster youth deserve to know their rights, and to know about what is happening in their lives and how they can have their needs met. Florida lawmakers must consider implementing a Bill of Rights for children in care so these children can understand their rights.

Anna Zhang, Coral Springs

The author is the statewide chair of Florida Youth SHINE, a statewide youth-driven, peer-led organization that empowers current and former foster youth to become advocates for all youth in care. A native of Hillsborough County, she came into foster care at age 14, and left foster care when she turned 18.


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Alexia Nechayev

FYS Events & Meeting Chair
(Palm Beach)

Hello, My name is Alexia Nechayev. I am 25 years old and I am an alumna of Florida International University where I received my B.A. in Psychology. My future career goal is to be a Lawyer. I was in care for about one year from age 17 to 18. Prior to entering care, I only knew about the negative stigma regarding foster care and while in care that narrative was unfortunately my experience.

In school I felt like I was on display because my status in care was broadcast to other students and in my placement behavior was leveraged for “privileges” that should be a natural right of all children. Because I did not know my rights I did not know that what I was experiencing was wrong. Today this is exactly why I advocate, because I don’t want this to be the same for other youth who are experiencing foster care.

This is my second year on the FYS Statewide Board and I’m happy to be the Events and Meetings Chair this year because my main goal through advocacy is to reach as many people as possible. My favorite thing as a board member is to see how comfortable members become while working together. The community needs to know that youth in foster care are real people, going through some of the hardest moments of their life and youth need to know that their voice is powerful. I believe that we have to speak up and bring these issues to people’s attention so that they do not forget us. Advocacy, education and consistency is the only way.

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