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Report: Florida Foster Youth Often Refuse Placement After Being Moved Dozens Of Times

Rebekka Behr and Robert Latham stand back to back with their arms crossed inside the Capitol. The space behind them has colorful decorations for Children's Week.
Robert Latham

A series of bills about the foster care system is moving through the Florida Legislature.

Rebekka Behr is focused on the Foster Youth Bill of Rights, which she says will take “all the rights that are already in law and (place) them into one document so that it makes it easier for youth to understand what their rights are as well as those in their case plan.”

It’s important for Behr, who aged out of Florida’s foster care system. She’s now 21-years-old and serves as the fundraising chair for Florida Youth Shine (FYS), a youth-led advocacy group working to improve the child welfare system.

She’s at the Capitol this week with advocates including FYS mentor Robert Latham, an attorney at the University of Miami Children & Youth Law Clinic.

Latham presented lawmakers with a report from Hillsborough County that he hopes will shed light on experiences of children in the foster care system and the instability they often face. Researchers found 49 children who refused foster care placement in Hillsborough between 2017 and 2019. They ranged in age from 7 to 17.

Latham says refusing placement is often a last resort for children who have been repeatedly uprooted. “The main thing we found was that these kids had experienced the worst problems of the foster care system to the highest degree,” Latham said. “These children had been, as a group on average, in approximately 31 placements.”

Behr adds, “For many of the youth that refuse placement, they are left within the offices of DCF or they live in cars.”

Latham recounts an 11-year-old boy who was taken into custody through the Baker Acton Christmas Eve. The boy was given a pass to stay with family members temporarily.

“A few weeks later, he was being placed in a group home outside of his county,” Latham said. “He refused to go inside because he wanted to be placed with his aunt. That night, that 11-year-old boy slept in the transportation van until the next morning when the case management came to check on him.”

Listen to the interview to hear more about the report and Behr's life now as a soon-to-be Florida State University graduate. 

Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. Follow Gina: @hearyourthought on Twitter. Click below for Gina's full bio.