This is a story about two children who found an adoptive home. It’s about the joys of fostering kids and the bravery of the children who go into new homes scared and sometimes starving. It’s also about the joy foster kids find when a family adopts them. Foster mom Sara Cozad shares her heartwarming and inspiring tale about how she rescued two children.
In order to adopt a foster child, you must first foster the child. Although there are eligibility requirements, people will not be turned away in most cases for marital status, age, income, or sexual orientation. What agencies are looking for are potential foster homes with stable, mature, dependable, and flexible adults.
Sara Cozad and her husband fulfilled the requirements. On this day, they were sitting in court with their two potential adoptive sons. With up-and-down hopes through the years, Sara dreamed they could stay together as a family. The couple was waiting to get official news that they would be parents of the two boys they had loved as foster sons, and Sara was thrilled to finally — hopefully — become a mom.
An Emotional Day
Sara, the two boys, and her husband, Stuart Shank, sat on the front bench of the courthouse facing the judge. The wait was almost over. The four of them sat attentive, awaiting the judge’s final decision. The tension in the room was palpable. Everyone knew how they wanted this day to go, they just had to hope that the judge felt the same way.
Breaking the reverent silence, the oldest boy, Dayshawn, stood up straight and tall. Heads turned abruptly, and he surprised everyone in the room with his interruption. He had some things to say about the Cozad family. His observations left Sara and Stuart in tears.
The Longest Day
Sitting in that courtroom, time seemed to come to a stop for Sara. It felt as if years were dragging out, waiting for the judge’s decision. In reality, it had been years. Sara explained that the hardest part about adopting their boys was the flip-flop of emotions they went through throughout their very long case.
She noted that this process had been going on for years at that point. She had always been a Type-A person, but this process made her realize the value of sitting back and simply enjoying life with her boys, because no one knew what the future held. When it all started, she was 26. It was a longtime dream to be a foster mom. She wanted to be a foster mom ever since she became an adult.
Seven Years Later
It had been seven years since she first revealed to Stuart the dream she had. On their first date, not even fifteen minutes into it, Stuart questioned her about what she wanted to do with her life. She was just 19 years old when he asked what her dream career was, where she wanted to travel, and if she wanted kids. Those were some big questions for a first date.
She said she didn’t really know what she wanted to do, but she did say she knew one thing for sure, if she was going to have children in her life, it would be because she was fostering them. Two weeks after their honeymoon, they began foster parent training. Seven years later, they waited in a courtroom to become parents of two boys.
On the Road to Becoming Foster Parents
That momentous first date led to marriage. Sara tells it like this: They got married a few years later and went on their honeymoon. Two weeks after they came home, they decided they were going to start their foster parent training. She added that they were in agreement that they would just do short-term emergency care/respite to start. They were planning on fostering babies and toddlers.
If it seems like a lot for a new couple to take on, it is! Sara says she felt proud of Stuart’s commitment to her dream. The loving couple was embarking on a challenging but rewarding journey. From the start, Sara said that she never felt compelled to have biological children, and it just made sense if kids in their community need a place to stay and they had a house, that is what they would do.
Guided by Love
From their very first date, Sara and Stuart formed a bond around the idea of adopting children. Not only is it rare for couples to begin their lives like this, but it shows that the two were meant for each other. It was a match made in heaven, and these two were angels themselves.
They tumbled into love and got married in 2014. The deep love they shared right from the start grew into a special bond that was ideal for foster parenting. What those children need most is love, and this couple had more than enough to go around.
Fostering Babies and Toddlers
The couple agreed to foster young children. As newlyweds, taking care of babies feels like a natural step toward parenting. You have to start somewhere! Still, as any parent or caretaker knows, babies are cute but not easy. This would be a huge and important learning curve for Sara and Stuart.
Sara was only 23 when she and her husband began their lives as foster parents. She always dreamed of adopting a baby. She and her husband jumped in feet first. Like any new parent, they bought cribs and car seats and went a little overboard shopping for baby clothes.
The First Foster Baby
Foster parenting was becoming a reality for the loving pair. As soon as the couple was licensed for fostering, they were called to take in a baby for a week. They loved it! Everything went really well, and they were glad to be called again to foster a sweet 3-year-old for the weekend.
In the beginning, they fostered many young children. The couple brought them into their home and loved them like their own. In all, they fostered 17 children on the road to their dream of adopting two. They did care for babies, but overall, Sara said that they had had older kids placed with them, and she's so glad for it.
A Weekend With 3-Year-Old Michael
Their second-ever fostering request was to care for a toddler named Michael for one weekend. He was scheduled to spend just two days with them, but plans changed. Little Michael ended up staying with Sara and Stuart for a whole week.
They bonded with the child right away, but at the end of the week, they had to let him go back. The couple was prepared for this exact situation by training to be foster parents, and they were ready in their hearts. Besides, the sad reality is, there are always more children in need of care. The couple was ready and willing to help.
An Unforeseen Change of Plans
Sara and Stuart were thrilled to get an extra week with Michael. They had a wonderful time together and found themselves bonding with the little guy. Soon, they would find themselves with him full-time. On the adoption stories blog “Love What Matters,” Sara talks about how they were asked to watch Michael for a weekend.
The pair immediately said yes, and that weekend turned into a week. And that week into months. And those months into years. Clearly, this match was meant to be. In time, they would need to make things official, but in the meanwhile, they just enjoyed the family they were building.
A Surprise Visitation
The truth is, Sara and Stuart did not realize they would be caring for Michael full-time. The foster agency requested their home for him, and the loving couple was happy to spend more time with the adorable child. The more they got to know Michael, the more love they developed for him.
The next thing they knew, the agency requested a visit from another child. Imagine their surprise to learn that Michael’s big brother was coming to their home! Dayshawn was on his way to see his little brother. The four of them would be together as a family for the first time.
A Heartwarming Hug
When Michael spotted Dayshawn, he ran straight across the playground and jumped into his brother’s arms. Dayshawn lifted him up, embraced him, and hugged his baby brother for several minutes, with Michael returning the embrace. Sara and Stuart looked on with tears trickling down their faces.
The brothers were beside themselves with joy. The loving couple watched in amazement. It turned their hearts. They decided then and there these boys should not be separated again, ever. Sara and Stuart also understood what this would mean for them as a couple and as a family. Luckily, they were not only on board, they were ready and excited for the road ahead.
Meeting Dayshawn was life-changing. The couple came to the realization that in order to keep these boys together, they would have to adopt them both. But Dayshawn was 10 years old. Sara had never planned to adopt an older child. An internal storm ensued. They knew what they wanted to do and what the right thing was to do, but it was obviously a new set of circumstances that they hadn't expected, and would offer new challenges.
She was just 23 herself, which would make her only 13 years older than her oldest son if the adoption went through. She wasn’t confident about being a mother to an older child. She was finding herself going against the parameters she and Stuart had previously agreed to.
Rolling With the Changes
As the couple’s plans for fostering only young children were going out the window, they wondered what it would be like caring for a preteen. The teen years could be a challenge they were not ready to handle. What were they getting themselves into?
Yet, as they got to know Dayshawn, their fears thankfully seemed to subside. The loving and charismatic boy was winning their hearts. Sara told "Good Morning America" that they fell in love with Dayshawn the second he opened his mouth. Dayshawn was exactly like his younger brother; charismatic, sweet, and kind. He was every parent's dream.
Facing Up to the Challenge
Sara had not planned on adopting older children. She lacked experience and know-how with older kids. Yet, she started fostering babies without experience too. And she knew in her heart that she could not let the brothers be torn apart again. This was the driving force in the couple’s decision.
On the other hand, adopting two children would make it difficult to continue fostering. Sara and Stuart’s commitment to fostering children meant that they would be taking care of as many kids as they could. With two of their own, it would make that goal more challenging. This is the challenge that virtually every foster couple faces. There are so many children in need of homes, and they wish they could adopt every one.
Changing Lives, One Child at a Time
Fostering children has filled Sara and Stuart’s lives with purpose and meaning. But it’s not easy, not by a long shot! “I love this life,” Sara wrote in her blog that she loves the foster parent life. Even though it is crazy and hard and heartbreaking, it is also life-giving and absolutely wonderful at the same time.
Included in their commitment is a promise to reunite children with their parents whenever possible. It can be very emotional after becoming attached to the children, but it’s also beyond rewarding to accomplish that goal for the family. Sara wrote, “I love being able to support families and cry happy (& sad!) tears when a mother gets her child back.”
Reuniting Michael and Dayshawn
Keeping the boys together was becoming a priority for Sara. Either she and Stuart would have to adopt them, or they would have to be reunited with their parents. But they did not know how the judge's decision to keep the boys together would pan out for their family. Would they be adoptive parents? Or would the boys get to go home? She said she still felt hesitant about adopting an older child, but the feelings were fading away.
Getting to know Dayshawn, Sara found he defied every stereotype about foster teens. She said he’s the most empathetic and compassionate person she knows with a personality that lights up every heart. He’s a social butterfly who welcomes each foster child who comes to the family.
Loving Dayshawn and Michael
The love the two brothers shared convinced the couple to keep them together. But it was also Dayshawn’s ways that motivated them. One time when a new foster child came into their home, Sara overheard Dayshawn. He whispered into the new boy’s ear that he knows this is scary. When he went to his first home he was scared too.
But he assured the boy that he was now safe, cared for, and Dayshawn promised that no one would hurt him. "I’ll be your buddy," Dayshawn reassured the little boy. He melted their hearts on a daily basis. Not making the decision to adopt was becoming unimaginable. Sara felt too much love for those boys to make any other decision.
Their First Year as a Family
It was after the four of them had spent a year together as a family that Stuart and Sara got the ball rolling toward legal adoption. This meant they would have to deal with the courts and wait for a judge to decide if they could adopt Michael and Dayshawn.
If they didn’t follow the procedures for adoption, they found out, they could lose the boys, and they would likely be separated again. They could not let that happen. The couple carefully followed every step of the process. This was a long journey ahead of them, but they were ready.
As they engaged with the adoption process, they soon found that patience is their number one ally in dealing with waiting for an outcome. It took much longer than Sara had bargained for. It took six months just to get the wheels in motion. It went on for years, not months. They were waiting to know if they would have an official family, and the boys were also waiting excitedly to know that they had a permanent home.
The anxious wait was a roller coaster of emotions. They didn’t know what was going to happen. The winds of change flew back and forth between Sara and Stuart adopting the boys, and them being reunited with their birth mother. This went on for months, then years, and Sara and Stuart tried to prepare themselves for every possible reality. Sara noted that being a foster parent has given her the gift of patience.
Preparing for the Long Haul
All they could do was wait patiently. Dayshawn was now a teenager, and Michael was growing tall. It would have been less complicated to adopt only one child, but that was not their fate. Even with just one child, the adoption process is long and drawn out, so we can't imagine the hurdles that were thrown at this family.
As they waited, they found a silver lining. The four of them were becoming a family unit. As time went on, it only served to draw them closer together, and the boys were happy as could be living together as a family team. Things were going well, even as they were forced to wait.
A Happy Family
Living as a family was wonderful for the boys, but it also taught Sara something. It taught her what it feels like to have her own family and the special love that is shared. She gushed that her boys are awesome and that it’s a privilege that she gets to spend her days with them.
When people tell her that the kids are lucky to have them as parents, she calls it laughable, it’s the opposite. They constantly say how so truly, deeply blessed they are to have met every kid who has walked through their door. The experience of adopting has brought the family closer together. It has made them feel like a real family.
The Wait Is Over!
Years of anxiety over the adoption process were finally melting away. The stress of waiting, at last, had a deadline. On August 13, 2018, the family would have their day in court. At that court date, the family would at long last receive the news. Finally, they would know for sure if the boys had a real home with real parents.
A permanent place meant the boys would not be separated, and it meant that they would share the last name of their parents. It was going to be a great, beautiful change. They hoped and prayed that the judge was favorable towards them.
An Emotional Day in Court
With so much anticipation for this day, it’s no surprise that the couple was filled with emotion. The long wait yielded this final day, and they both fought off tears of joy and relief. Both Sara and Stuart had waited years, if not their whole lives, for this day.
On top of that, an unexpected event prompted Sara to break into sobs, right in the middle of the courtroom. There was no way to prepare for this! But in the end, coming from Dayshawn, it was just as she expected. Just as the judge was contemplating their decision, Dayshawn took the opportunity to make his voice heard.
Dayshawn and Michael had been sitting quietly in the courtroom, the entire time, only talking when they had been addressed. They were understandably stressed out and nervous. They knew exactly what verdict they wanted from the judge. In the midst of the adoption hearing, Dayshawn had something to say. Everyone heard his response.
The judge was asking, “You think they all agree that this adoption ought to go forward?” Everyone was silent but quietly optimistic that things would go their way. At this vital moment, when Sara and Stuart were waiting eagerly to hear the announcement, something else happened instead.
Prompted by the Judge
Sitting anxiously, waiting for the finalization of the long-awaited adoption process, a voice from the court seating area spoke up. It was Dayshawn! He had melted into the background while at the same time having been the center of attention in the whole room. All eyes were on him now.
The judge asked if all agree that the adoption goes forward, and Dayshawn responded, “Yeah, they all love us.” People were shocked! His answer made them smile, laugh, and even tear up. But he was not finished. What he said next had the entire courtroom in a flush of emotions.
Dayshawn’s reply to the judge caused many people to laugh, however, he also touched as many hearts with a few more words. In a few sentences, Dayshawn captured the hearts of everyone in the courtroom, and all those who heard after, by articulating perfectly just how much his new family meant to him and his brother, Michael.
He piped up once more, and said, “We love them. Our whole family is the best thing we ever had. I’m glad to have these people in my life. I’m glad to be their son. They’re the best thing I ever had.” He told the judge the precise reason he wanted to be adopted, and there was hardly a dry eye.
Sara burst into tears. Her newly adopted son articulated exactly why he and his brother should be adopted, and he said it right in front of the judge. It made her think about all they had given the boys thus far, and why they loved them so much. She had given them the best thing they ever had in their young lives, a family.
The expression of gratitude touched Stuart too. As foster parents, they felt redeemed, blessed, and confident in their new role as official parents. Obviously, the judge had no cause for concern and immediately granted Sara and Stuart custody of the two boys as their official sons. They celebrated the day with a ride home in a chauffeured limo.
A New Day
The long wait for adoption meant the boys would not be separated. Sara and Stuart felt relieved they had achieved that goal. Their efforts were paying off tenfold. Dayshawn and Michael finally had the security of a family that they had always dreamed of.
Dayshawn’s concluding remarks in the courtroom would have sealed the deal for the couple, (as if there was any doubt in their mind.) At the end of his speech, he said that if he could wish for anything in the world, he would wish that he could just love Sara and Stuart for the rest of his life. Aww!
A swell of emotion came over the courtroom after Dayshawn’s speech. Family and friends present cheered the happy ending to Sara and Stuart’s adoption saga. Emotions ran high, and the Shank family was ready to celebrate. Warm messages of congratulations and well wishes came flooding in from all over. Anyone who learned of the Shanks' story was touched.
The celebration included donuts and a party and, of course, the limo ride. The Shanks hosted the party at their house following the hearing. Needless to say, the atmosphere at the party was electric with joy and celebration. This was the absolute best outcome for everyone. The new Shank boys were understandably the happiest people in the room.
One of the first things the family celebrated was the boys’ new last name. With a sign, the boys commemorated the event. Sara posted that she had shared her heart and home with them for 947 days. But as of August 13, 2018, she gets to share her last name with them. The Shank family now included two adorable sons.
Everyone agreed that Dayshawn and Michael Shank had a nice ring to them. Dayshawn went a step further and chose a new middle name for himself. Sara said that he defies every stereotype of a teenage boy, so, when he chose the middle name “Star,” she felt it fit him perfectly.
Chosen. Loved. Adopted.
Though Sara and Stuart are strong advocates for reunification, their case landed in adoption. Sara said reunification was not possible in this situation. It turned out for the best. The boys were both so happy to be with the Shanks, and the Shanks were elated to call them their sons. They are thrilled about the boys’ future and being there for them.
Sara said that there is less than a 3% chance that teens who leave foster care at age 18 will earn a college degree. With her guidance, these boys have a good chance. Already, Dayshawn says he wants to be a basketball player, a doctor, or a social worker when he gets older.
Continuing Their Mission
The Shanks may have attained the family of their dreams, but they are not going to let go of their other dream — to foster children. The first foster child they took in as a new family was a 14-year-old boy who was a victim of truly unfortunate circumstances.
Her goal is reunification, in most cases. She says her thinking has changed from simply fostering kids to saying that she is doing her part to foster love and connection between each child and their parents. She feels like she is the parent’s cheerleader to reunite with his or her child. Benefits include less stress for the child, better relationships within the family, and a closer connection with the birth parents.
The Shank’s Commitment to Foster Care
The couple remains strong advocates for foster care. In fact, they are dedicating their assistance to helping children who are most in need. Sara wrote that they began only fostering teens who had been victims of severe crimes and LGBTQ+ youth.
Extra training was required, but they felt it was important as these two segments are the most neglected within the foster system. On the “Love What Matters” blog, Sara wrote that it is heartbreaking that these demographics of teens sit in social workers’ offices or shelters for weeks (or even months) on end since so few homes are open to them.
Happily, Ever After
Sara and Stuart love what they are doing in their lives, and they want to keep on giving. They would like to open up their house as a specialized home for LGBTQ+ youth, teen moms, or teens who survived trafficking, wherever there is the most need. Sara implores others to be aware of the great need for foster homes. She confirms that there are thousands upon thousands of incredible kids out there needing people who will care for them and love them.
From her experience, she says that people interested in fostering shouldn't be concerned that they need to be the 'perfect' parent. Every parent makes mistakes or speaks out of turn. But what she ensures is that the kids understand. They know that parents are only human and that the point of a family is to be a team and apologize when necessary. Today Sara is qualified as a trainer for foster parents.