New Handbook Helps Florida Homeless Youth Understand Legal Rights

Baker McKenzie has partnered with The Walt Disney Company and nonprofit child advocacy organization Florida’s Children First in a joint pro bono effort to create the Florida Homeless Youth Handbook, an online and print resource for youth experiencing homelessness, or transitioning to adulthood without parental support. Florida will be the sixth state in the US to receive this guide which is also available in print form in schools, libraries, shelters and public agencies throughout  Florida.

The handbook was designed to help empower youth experiencing homelessness in Florida with state-specific guidance in a youth-friendly, easy to understand layout. The guide is also meant to be used by volunteer lawyers in Florida who provide legal assistance to homeless youth, as well as a tool for other professionals or lay people who work with or want to help a child.

“On any given night, 7,000 young people in Florida are homeless, and they face significant legal barriers preventing them from getting the support they need,” said Christina Supdeas, Executive Director of Florida’s Children First. “We are very grateful for this new resource, which will be an essential guide for young people looking for answers to their legal problems, and for the adults across the state who are dedicated to helping them.”

A team of lawyers and staff spent hundreds of hours researching, writing and editing the handbook, which covers topics such as education, healthcare, housing, parenting, criminal justice, social assistance and consumer building personal credit. The guide will debut at the launch event on April 13 at Disney’s Contemporary Resort in Orlando.

Hilarie Bass, American Bar Association President, will serve as the guest of honor and keynote speaker at the event. The handbook supports Bass’ Legal Needs of Homeless Youth Initiative, which trains volunteer lawyers to provide legal assistance to homeless youth and matches lawyers throughout the US with shelters to provide free legal assistance.

Baker McKenzie previously partnered with other clients and nonprofits to produce similar handbooks for homeless youth in five other states – Texas, Washington, Minnesota, Illinois and New York – all of which are available at Digital agency One North recently redesigned the website as a pro bono project, making the handbooks even easier to access and search from a mobile device or desktop.

“The Homeless Youth Handbook project is an excellent example of how collaboration among in-house counsel, non-profits and law firms can exponentially increase assistance to those in need,” said Robert Moore, Managing Partner of Baker McKenzie’s Miami Office. “Through partnerships like this, we are able to provide hundreds of thousands of children in the US, and their advocates, with clear guidance on young people’s legal rights. Thank you to the talented teams at Disney and Florida’s Children First for their collaboration with Baker McKenzie on this important project.”

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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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