A group of young adults, all survivors of the British Columbia foster care system, rallied in downtown Vancouver Saturday afternoon to draw attention to the issues faced by youth as they transition out of the system.

Susan Russell, a former youth in care, works with an organization called Fostering Change, which advocates on behalf kids in care and those transitioning to independence.

"There's a lot of heart-breaking stories out there, and when you're an advocate, you're a lucky one,” said Russell. "I do this work for my brother and sister who didn't make it through the system."

Two of Russell’s siblings who also grew up in the system took their own lives, and she wonders if they would have survived if they had had better supports.

Between 2011 and 2016, 200 youth and young adults who had been in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development died.

The province signs Agreements with Young Adults, AYAs, that provide money for housing and education to youth leaving foster care, but not all qualify.

In a 2018 coroner’s report examining the deaths of youth in care and those who had recently transitioned out, the province promised to amend the qualifying criteria for AYAs so that all young people leaving care are eligible.

"We're asking for comprehensive and universal supports,” said Anita Shen at Saturday’s rally. “Comprehensive meaning everything that you need in life, whether that's emotional support, mental health support, financial support and social supports."

Shen left the foster care system when she was 17 and said she struggled with homelessness for a time.

“I felt very isolated from the rest of the world. I felt a lot of shame and stigma, which I think no youth should have to feel,” she said.

Now 26, Shen works and goes to school, and she credits friends for supporting her and helping her find stability.