Some of Cody Shanahan's first memories are of walking the streets, rummaging through garbage bins to find stale bread and fruit scraps to feed himself and his younger sister.
The Camden man, who was placed in foster care at just three years old, is now writing a book about his experiences to try to help other kids in care.
During National Child Protection Week last week, Mr Shanahan also worked to get the message out that child protection was everyone's responsibility.
"My message to all fostered people for Child Protection Week is to not feel ashamed about being fostered - everyone deserves a second chance," Mr Shanahan said.
"I want to encourage them to let the fostering experience drive them to be the best person they can be and to aim for a better, brighter and secure future.
"My message to everyone else in the community is simply to listen to children - if they think a child is in trouble, give them a helping hand."
Mr Shanahan and his sister spent their early years with their parents, who were drug dependent, in western Sydney.
"I used to wander the streets looking for food - finding stale bread and fruit scraps for me and my little sister," he said.
"It was a dark place, but it was what was familiar, so when the child protection services came to take us away, it was traumatic.
"I remember climbing out of the car window to get back to my parents and screaming when I was placed back in the car."
The siblings were placed with several temporary foster carers until they were placed into the permanent care of a Wollongong couple.
"I was five, my sister was three - when we met our new mum and dad, we finally felt we belonged somewhere," Mr Shanahan said.
Today he is studying for a bachelor of music degree at the University of NSW, is an active member of Wollongong City Surf Life Saving Club and has ambitions to work in radio broadcasting.
He's also writing his book and taking part in a youth advisory program for the CREATE foundation, which offers programs for young people in care aged five to 25.
CREATE chief executive Jacqui Reed said more than 39,000 children and young people lived in care in Australia - a figure that was increasing by 9 per cent each year.
She said National Child Protection Week aimed to raise public awareness of child abuse and neglect and its impacts.
"CREATE believe that the week is about remembering to consider others in our community, understanding that we don't always know what difficulties others may be facing and to think about how we can play our part in protecting children from harm or neglect," Ms Reed said.
Anyone with concerns about suspected child abuse or exploitation should call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or the Child Protection Helpline on 132 111.