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by: Florida's Children First, The Walt Disney Company, and Baker McKenzie

The sun sets every night in the Sunshine state on more than 7,000 young people who are homeless and without parents or guardians. These young people make up almost 10% of the homeless student population in Florida, which is a whopping 73,000 school-aged children and teens.  (To learn more, see www.dcf.state.fl.us/programs/homelessness) That’s just the number of unaccompanied youth counted by our schools.  There are thousands more young adults also making their way in the world without even the support system that public schools provide.  Every year nearly a thousand young people in Florida’s child welfare system turn 18 without being in a permanent family.  Twenty percent of young adults who were formerly in foster care report being homeless in the last two years and twenty-five percent report couch surfing.  Although uncounted, scores of children exit the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems without adequate housing and parental support.

Children and young adults who lack the stability of a home and parental guidance face enormous challenges building healthy and successful lives.  What might be a bump in the road for children who have family or other support can be debilitating for a young person with little means, no family support, and no knowledge of the laws available to protect their rights.  The legal issues they face can range from education to emancipation, from foster care to family law, from delinquency to domestic violence. 

Baker McKenzie and The Walt Disney Company are very proud to provide pro bono support to the development of this Handbook in service to Florida's Children First, a leader in the field of children's advocacy.

Florida’s Children First is the state’s premier children’s advocacy organization and the only organization informed by youth with a focus on empowering them to be advocates for themselves and for other children in care.  That is why Florida’s Children First is so pleased to be part of the Homeless Youth Handbook - Florida edition. Our experience with Florida Youth SHINE, our youth advocacy organization of current and former foster youth ages 13-23, has shown us that young people are resilient and strong.  What they lack is knowledge of the law and their rights.  But when Florida’s youth are armed with information and advocacy tools they can successfully make their own way in this world.    This Homeless Youth Handbook will provide them with comprehensive information about their legal rights and give them tools to obtain what they need to become successful.  It will also provide the supportive adults who work with young folks a comprehensive look at the legal systems that affect youth.

At The Walt Disney Company, being a good corporate citizen is a time-honored tradition that dates back to its founding in 1923.  Through contributions, collaborations with local organizations, in-kind gifts, and volunteering – including the Legal Department’s provision of pro bono services – Disney promotes the happiness and wellbeing of kids and families.  The company believes that individual actions can have a large, collective impact that transforms communities.

The global law Firm of Baker McKenzie is proud of its commitment to the communities in which the Firm lives and practices. Baker McKenzie engages in a robust pro bono practice that inspires attorneys across the world to address important issues facing underserved and disadvantaged communities, families and individuals. Specifically, the Firm's efforts in advocacy for children and youth have engaged professionals in every type of pro bono service from systemic change and capacity building efforts to individual representation of children who are trafficked, charged with crimes, victims of abuse or neglect, or lacking access to the services available to them in our public justice systems.

We all owe our deepest gratitude to the many professions and professionals who serve the homeless youth of Florida each and every day. We sincerely hope that this Handbook provides a valuable resource to our state’s youth and to those social workers, counselors, teachers, police officers, health care professionals and the many others who provide daily support in the fight for justice for our homeless youth. 

Christina Spudeas 
Executive Director 
Florida's Children First

Alan Braverman 
Senior Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary
The Walt Disney Company

Colin Murray 
North America Managing Partner
Baker McKenzie