Whenever I'm asked what it was like being in foster care, one incident immediately comes to mind. It was eight days before my 17th birthday, and my case worker said we were going out for a birthday lunch. My foster parents at the time were in Richmond Hill and, for the first time in my life, I felt comfortable and happy in a family environment.
This was my sixth foster family I'd been with since I'd fled the family home a few days after my biological father had given me a severe beating. To escape, I'd walked more than 60 kilometres from Oshawa to Beaverton hoping to find support and refuge.
There, my dad's ex-girlfriend tried to help, but I was reported missing and soon found myself as another teen in the family services system.
For the next 18 months or so, I was moved from Pickering to Barrie to Mississauga to Ajax, to Oshawa, and then to Richmond Hill. During that time, despite my best efforts, I was not always able, or allowed, to attend school.
It's frustrating to hear kids complaining about having to go to school. I always wanted to go because I knew the only chance to improve my situation was by getting qualifications and controlling my future. It is a harsh reality that once in foster care, the chances of graduating from high school and attending tertiary education drop dramatically.
That is why support programs offering kids the opportunity to make up some of the ground they've missed when they are shuttled across the region time after time after time are important.
As a young woman, foster care can be an unsettling environment. Sometimes the only option when you're at risk of being sexually assaulted is to run, but where can you go?
By this point in your life, there are few, if any, people you feel you can trust.
It is only now, after generations of kids being "lost," that we're seeing advocacy groups being set up to help.
While I was in the foster care in Richmond Hill, I thought my life had turned a corner. I was in school, my foster parents were my "real" mom and dad, and I was able to look to the future.
But with just over a week until my 17th birthday, I was not going for a celebratory lunch. I was being taken to a new foster family in Branchton.
That moment will live with me forever; I was not able to say goodbye or even collect any of my belongings. No explanation will ever help me comprehend the cruelty of that move.
It's a short walk from happiness to despair when you are in foster care. The new foster family was involved in a cleanse diet that centred on fruit and fish. I have never been able to eat the latter, and I have always needed a high protein, high carb diet. I cried for days at the helpless position I had been dumped in.
By the time I was able to move into a place on my own, I had been in 11 foster care homes and was pregnant.
Trying to find a place to rent or get a job when you have a baby, no high school diploma and a poor credit score is daunting.
But my story is about perseverance: my former foster parents in Richmond Hill, who had never given up on me, helped me get enough money for a deposit so I could move into my own place.
At 22, I was legally adopted by my Richmond Hill foster parents. They play a crucial part in my life and look after my daughter while I'm working.
This summer I will finally graduate from high school and hope to go to university in the fall. Getting to this point has not been easy, but there are some kids facing much worse every day.
It is important to learn from our successes and failures. We need to make sure the voice of all foster kids are being heard.
Sarah Arkwell is a former foster kid who benefitted from the work being done at 360ºkids.