Why A Couple In Their 20s Decided To Exclusively Foster Teenagers

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Why A Couple In Their 20s Decided To Exclusively Foster Teenagers
Family

Sara Cozard and Stuart Shank are foster parents who love their adopted children Michael and Dayshawn as well as the 14 other children they have fostered. 

Children in the foster care system go through so much. And it's amazing when there is a couple that is so heartfelt and determined to adopt can change a teen's or a child's life. 

According to Love What Matters, Sarah met Stuart when she was nineteen. At the beginning of their relationship, literally fifteen minutes into their first date, he asked if she wanted children one day. Of course, she said that she knew that if she ever had children, she would foster them. 

She did not think that adoption would ever be in her future, but it turns out she just needed to meet the right children. 

A few years later they married and after their honeymoon, they started taking foster parent training classes. They wanted to do emergency short term care at first for babies and toddlers, but boy did their story change. 

They advocate for reunification between child and parent. They want to support parents whenever they can when the parents work so hard to get their children back. 

At the age of 23, they received their foster license and they were immediately asked to foster a baby for a week. and then they were asked to take in a three-year-old for a weekend. That weekend turned into a week, a week into months, and months into years. He is now their son, Michael. 

Then, soon later, they met Dayshawn, Michael's older brother at the age of 14. 

RELATED: What Living With The Emotional & Physical Pain Caused By A Childhood In The U.S. Foster Care System Feels Like

An amazing adoption story. 

After having Michael in their life for a few months, they agreed to a supervised visit with his brother. 

Sara told Love What Matters, "The second Michael caught a glimpse of his brother from across the playground, he ran with all his might and jumped into his arms. It was that second that Stuart and I looked at each other and we truly understood that Dayshawn and Michael needed to be together."  

The couple was very hesitant at first, but once they got to know Dayshawn, Sara said, "All my fears went out the window."  

For years they went back and forth with the court about reuniting the children with their parents and then adoption. Then it would be reunification, then adoption. This was an emotional rollercoaster for the children and the couple. 

This situation, she said, "Made me realize that I needed to just sit back and enjoy every single moment with our boys because I truly had no control over what the future held."

Sara also said, "Being his [Dayshawn's] mom feels so natural. He doesn't even seem to notice that I'm so young (or he just doesn't care.) To him, I'm just his mom. He was so excited on our adoption day. My favorite part is when he felt compelled to interrupt the judge to explain exactly why he wanted to be adopted (so many tears!)."  

RELATED: Parenting An Adopted Child Is A Lot Easier Than You Think (If You Do These 10 Things)

Now they are in the process of becoming specialized to take care of teen moms, sex-trafficked teens, and LGBTQIA+ youth. 

According to Fostering Our Future, the United States has around 500,000 children in the foster care system. 

Each year, 23,000 teens age out of the foster care system, and 20% automatically become homeless. 

Before the age of 21, 70% of girls who age out of the system become pregnant. 

Foster care also produces 80% of inmates on death row, and foster children have less than a 3% chance of obtaining a four-year college degree in their life.

RELATED: 10 Signs That Prove You're An Amazing Adoptive Parent (& 10 Parenting Mistakes To Avoid At All Costs)

Statistics on sex-trafficked youth in foster care.

60% of sex trafficking victims come from foster care.

City Limits magazine has researched the impact of the sex-trafficking ring on foster children.

The National Foster YOuth Institute (NFYI) defines human trafficking as "the exploitation of people for sexual servitude, forced labor, or financial gain."  

This industry makes over thirty billion dollars a year worldwide. 

Over 100,000 children are victims of sex trafficking, particularly foster children. Foster children make up 60% of the recovered victims by the FBI. 

Girls usually enter sex trafficking at the age of 12 and most children found in prostitution are recovered at the age of 14. 

Statistics on LGBTQIA+ youth in foster care.

Youth.gov has all the statistics on children who identify as LGBTQIA+ in the foster care system.

26% of LGBTQIA+ youth who enter foster care do so because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And this is the same reason queer homeless youth report being cast out of their home. 

30% of LGBTQIA+ youth have said that they were abused physically by a member of their family, and 32% of homeless LGBTQIA+ youth have said that they experienced emotional, sexual, and physical abuse at home because of their gender identity and sexual orientation. 

In foster care, 13% have been treated badly by the foster care system compared to non-LGBTQIA+ youth.

Also, 78% of placed LGBTQIA+ youth either ran away or were removed from their placed foster homes because of the foster parent's hostility towards them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Statistics on teen moms in foster care.

The National Center for Health Research presented that teen girls in foster care are more likely to end up pregnant at least once before they turn 19. 

The National Center believes, "A close parent-adolescent bond is shown to delay sexual activity, increase use of contraceptives and birth control, and decrease the risk of teen pregnancy."  But this is something girls in the foster care system do not have. 

Where is the family now?

Even after they adopted the boys, they decided to continue fostering children. 

Sara said, "Becoming a foster parent has given me the gift of patience and being able to be a lot easier going with whatever challenges come our way." 

 

My babies!! Dayshawn Star Shank (left) Dayshawn is without a doubt the sweetest kid I’ve ever met. He is so charismatic, totally hilarious and is the definition of a social butterfly. He loves basketball, dancing, and his friends and family. He works so hard in school and is still deciding between being a doctor, a basketball player, or a social worker when he grows up. Anyone who meets him, immediately loves him. He is known for his motivational speeches, and he makes it so, so easy to be his parents. My favorite thing about Dayshawn is his love for others- he’s made it his personal mission to be there for any kid who walks through our door, showing so much compassion and empathy towards every single child (and person) he meets. _ Michael De’Anthony Shank Our youngest, Michael, is 6. He is SO smart, so athletic, and has a kickass sense of humor. He is such a joy to be around and watching him grow from a chubby toddler into this inquisitive, hilarious kid has been the most incredible experience. He loves Stuart’s chicken tikka masala, reading The Magic Treehouse books, and anything by Michael Jackson. Michael is one of the few 5-year-olds crushing black diamonds at Mt. Baker (beating me down the mountain every.single.time) His favorite animal is baby skunks (note the skunk tie) and he gives the best cuddles in the world. His favorite person is his big brother and you’ll rarely ever find him more than 5 feet from Dayshawn. Michael made me a mother, and being able to spend my days with him over the last couple years has resulted in the best years of my life. I’m just so, so thankful. . . . #adoptionday #foreverfamily #adoption #bellingham #pnw #washington #raisingboys #teenadoption #letterfolk #togetherwerise #transracialadoption #openadoption #blackboyjoy #fosterlove #fostercare #fostertoadopt #adoptionislove #lovemakesafamily #adoptionrocks #fostertoforever #finally

A post shared by Sara Cozad (@cozyd) on Aug 15, 2018 at 4:51pm PDT

They decided to start learning how to take care of children and teens in certain situations, such as teen moms, victims of sex trafficking, and those of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Sara said, "Not because we can necessarily parent these kids better than anyone else, but because it's 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." 

She could never see herself doing anything else.

"I’ve had the privilege of falling in love over, and over, and over again (14 times, to be exact!) With foster care, the highs are so incredibly high, and the lows can be so, so low. It’s never boring. But I love this life. I love being a mom. I love caring for the children in our community- whether it’s for a night or for a lifetime. I love being able to support families and cry happy (and sad!) tears when a mother gets her child back. I can’t imagine ever not living this life,” she said.

To this day, Sara and Stuart have fostered 14 children in long-term or emergency situations. Even now, Sara says, "I cry every single time a child leaves." 

Her favorite quote is by Alfred Tennyson, "It's better to have loved and to lost than never to have loved at all."  

So, above all else, she and her husband want to provide children and teens with a home and a family for however long they have them. They accept the children for who they are and they love getting to know each new personality. 

Their goal is to make everyone feel welcomed and that they have someone that cares about them, even for only for a short period of time. 

RELATED: This Foster Child's Wish List Makes Us Realize How Good We Have It

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Emily Francos is a writer who covers astrology, pop culture, and relationship topics.