‘Florida Youth Shine’ amplifying voices of former foster kids to spark change in the child welfare system

Navigating the child welfare system can be challenging for many kids, whether they’re adopted or in foster care.

A statewide organization called Florida Youth Shine is dedicated to advocating for those children by amplifying their voices. It was founded in 2005 by Florida’s Children First.

“At the age of 16, I was taken from my home and placed into the foster care system. The day that I entered care was the day that I lost about 90% of my rights,” Rebekka Behr, the statewide chair for Florida Youth Shine, said.

Behr was moved from her home in Loxahatchee and spent the next two years in a group home near Lake Worth Beach. She said her caretakers there caused her to miss weeks of school and stopped her from speaking to friends and family.

“I felt isolated. I felt like I was in prison. I felt like I had done something wrong and that I just belonged there and I didn’t know what I had done,” Behr said.

When Behr turned 18, she enrolled at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

After aging out of foster care, she was assigned an independent living specialist from Vita Nova, an organization that functions as a safe haven for homeless and foster care youth.

Through the specialist, she was introduced to Florida Youth Shine and wanted to get involved.

“In order to make differences in the lives of children, we realize that youth that have been through the foster care system need to be the ones that are informing it and helping solve some of the biggest problems, so it’s completely youth-led,” Geori Seldine, the executive director of Florida’s Children First, said.

Seldine said FYS’s youth leaders have made monumental changes in the foster care system that have bettered the lives of children.

“Florida Youth Shine advocated for so many changes, whether that be normalcy—so, before Florida Youth Shine advocated for that—children couldn’t participate in their football practices. They couldn’t go on sleepovers. They couldn’t be normal kids,” Seldine said.

Behr is part of that change. She’s served five years with the organization, the last one as the organization’s statewide chair, and she’s hoping to make even more of a difference.

“Having us not only at the table but being in those positions of leadership to take action allows for things that have happened to us, no longer happen to those in care,” Behr said.

Florida Youth Shine has 14 chapters across the state, including Vita Nova in West Palm Beach.

Those seeking membership must be between the ages of 13 and 26, involved in the child welfare system, or is experiencing homelessness.


Jade Jarvis



Updated: 3:20 PM EDT Aug 10, 2022

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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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