Sara knew that she wanted to foster children, but nothing could have prepared her and her husband Stuart for the journey that awaited them. Two special boys changed everything they knew about being a family and left a court room laughing and crying at the same time. Here is their story.
Sara and Stuart's Teenage Romance
When Sara Cozad went on her first date with Stuart Shank, it looked like the average cafe date. The pair of teenagers were exchanging small talk when Stuart starting hitting his date with the real questions.
"About 15 minutes into our first date, he asked me what I wanted to do with my life... Did I want kids?" Sara recalled. "I told him I didn't really know what I wanted to do, although I knew for sure if I was going to have children in my life." But Sara didn't mean it in the most conventional sense...
Sara Had a Purpose
Though she was hesitant to share this fact with her date, at the age of 19, Sara felt committed to experiencing motherhood. However, she felt more drawn to fostering children rather than getting pregnant. She was well aware of the disadvantages kids in the foster system faced and wanted to try and make a difference.
While Sara was confident in her convictions, she also knew that her passion for fostering sometimes came across too strong. However, something in her gut encouraged her to share with Stuart, and his reaction caught the 19-year-old off guard, to say the least.
They Were Totally Alligned
To Sara's complete and utter shock, Stuart was on board with her vision of parenting and fostering. Safe to say that his open-mindedness made Sara fall for him even harder, and it didn't take long for the pair of them to start planning a future together.
As time went on, Sara and Stuart's connection only got deeper, so a few years after their first date, Sara and Stuart said "I do" and started navigating the world of fostering together. But it wasn't as easy as they'd hoped, and the newlyweds soon understood the uphill battle ahead of them.
Checking All the Boxes
Being approved for children in the foster care system isn’t as easy as A-B-C, and Sara and Stuart had their work cut out for them in trying to prove that they were responsible enough to take it on. In the months that followed, the young couple jumped through hoops including courses, police checks, social worker visits, and more.
But their dedication paid off and they got the golden stamp of approval to become foster parents. Thrilled with the news, Sara and Stuart immediately signed up for temporary and emergency cases where the kids would be staying for short periods of time. But that would all change less than a week after getting approved.
Sara and Stuart's Big Break
If the long bureaucratic lead-up to getting their license was any warning, Sara and Stuart thought they’d be waiting for months before getting the chance to foster, but the opposite ended up happening. “we were immediately called asking if we could take in a baby for a week,” Sara said. It was happening so fast for the couple.
Luckily, Sara and Stuart felt up to the challenge and enjoyed every moment shared with the precious baby. “It went great and we loved it,” the new foster mom gushed. The couple was ready for whatever would come next, but nothing could have prepared them for the next foster child that came through their door.
Their Miracle, Michael
Riding the high from their first fostering success, Sara and Stuart made sure that the fostering agency was aware that they were ready for another opportunity. Their wish was granted, but this time, instead of a baby, they were asked to foster a three-year-old boy for the weekend named Michael. “We said yes,” Sara recalled.
While the stay was meant to be short, Sara and Stuart felt a deep connection for the moment the three-year-old walked through their door. “That weekend turned into a week. And that week into months,” Sara shared. Three months later, they took Michael to a supervised visit with his older brother. It would change everything…
And in the lead-up to the visit, Sara and Stuart had some hesitations, mainly because of the seven-year age gap between the siblings. However, all those worries melted away. “[Michael] ran with all his might and jumped into [Dayshawn's] arms,” Sara remembered from the visit. The brothers had really missed each other.
For Sara and Stuart, the connection between the boys was as clear as day. They couldn’t remember seeing Michael that enthusiastic, which meant a lot. Sara knew that something had to be done to keep these brothers together, but she had some serious hesitations about proposing the idea.
No More Goodbyes
“It was that second that Stuart and I looked at each other and we truly understood that Dayshawn and Michael needed to be together,” Sara remembered. The couple began discussing what welcoming Dayshawn into their home would be like, especially given the small age gap between Dayshawn and Sara.
Sara was only 13 years older than Dayshan and felt a little out of her depth by agreeing to foster a pre-teen. But rather than shy away from the feelings, Sara and Stuart decided to be open with Dayshawn and lay it all on the table. And the conversation changed Sara and Stuart’s perspective completely.
Wise Beyond His Years
“The second I started talking to [Dayshawn], all my fears went out the window,” Sara wrote in a LoveWhatMatters blog post. “[He] breaks every single stereotype about teens in foster care. He is the most empathetic and compassionate person I’ve ever met.”
And his maturity was also apparent in his work ethic. “He works so hard in school and is SO funny. He wants to be either a basketball player, a doctor, or a social worker when he grows up,” Sara shared. The couple knew that Dayshawn was a great kid who just needed a chance, and so they decided to make a difference in his life.
Having spoken with Dayshawn, Sara and Stuart felt ready to take the next step in formally fostering the two brothers together. For Dayshawn, it meant a fresh start in a loving home, where he could get the support to make all his dreams come true. The 10-year-old fit in perfectly with his foster family.
And he showed nothing but love for the many foster children that came through Sara and Stuart’s door as well. “He is a social butterfly and makes it his personal mission to welcome every new child who comes to us,” Sara wrote. But how long could they continue in this fostering situation?
Michael and Dayshawn carved a special spot in the hearts of their foster parents that Sara and Stuart couldn’t have ever anticipated. As the boys became settled into their temporary home, Sara became overwhelmed with love for the brothers and nervous about what the future had in store.
Sara was determined to keep Michael and Dayshawn in the same home but also wanted to make sure they’d be in the right environment to help them achieve all their potential. She knew about the risks of transitioning to a new home and didn’t want the boys to get lost in the system. Sara knew she had to do something.
The Ultimate Choice
No matter the joy Sara and Stuart felt by having Michael and Dayshawn in their home, fostering came with some difficulties as well. The foster parents felt a grey cloud hanging over them as the phone could ring at any moment letting them know that the boys were being relocated. They didn’t want to lose what the four of them had.
Knowing what was at stake, Sara and Stuart decided to fight for their family of four and start the formal adoption process. And while the couple got some criticism for their choice, they knew it was the right thing to do. “Being his mom feels so natural,” Sara explained.
Putting Michael and Dayshawn First
While Sara and Stuart pursued the adoption process fueled by their love for the boys, it also served the young brothers’ best interests in staying together. Sibling relocation has proven to be rare, and while agencies try their best, Michael and Dayshawn could have ended up separated in their next foster home.
And just the thought of that made Sara and Stuart leap into action. They could see with their own very eyes just how much the two boys benefited from being with one another. But just like becoming foster parents, Sara and Stuart were in for a long journey.
"Flip-Flop" of Emotions
Sara and Stuart jumped through every hoop thrown their way in order to fight for their family, but the process was far from easy. The case took on a life of its own, and the fragile family of four waited on edge for years hoping to finally get an answer. The uncertainty of it all took a toll on Sara specifically.
“I think the hardest part what the flip-flop of emotions we went through throughout their very long case,” Sara reflected. The courts switched between adoption and reunification over and over again. Sara and Stuart tried their best to be strong, but it definitely played with their emotions.
Three years of finger-crossing passed as Sara, Stuart, Michael, and Dayshawn waited to hear their fate. And while the four knew that their days together could be numbered, it fueled a closer relationship than they ever could have imagined. It also taught Sara an important lesson that she’ll never forget.
“I’ve always been a pretty Type-A person and this process really made me realize that I needed to just sit back and enjoy every single moment with our boys,” she wrote on the blog. But would Sara manage to keep her family together or were they destined to separate?
The Big Day
On August 13, 2018, Sara, Stuart, Michael, and Dayshawn made their way to the local courthouse filled with emotion. Would they be leaving together as a legal family unit? While their future was uncertain, there was a whole lot of love between the four of them.
Sara and Stuart were especially filled with pride when they saw the boys on their best behavior and dressed to the nines for the special occasion. They all shuffled into the courtroom and answered all the questions the judge asked of them – even Michael and Dayshawn had a chance to speak.
A Forever Family?
There to offer support were the family and friends of Sara, Stuart, and the boys. They crowded into the modest courtroom and sat in anticipation of the judge's statement. But it didn't take long to for the judge's heart to melt when Michael and Dayshawn started speaking about their relationship with their foster parents.
The young brothers' heartfelt words convinced the judge that they were in the right home - their forever home. She gave her seal of approval and just like that, Sara and Stuart were the legal parents of Michael and Dayshawn! Everyone in the courtroom burst with excitement. But someone had a little something to say...
Dayshawn Had the Last Word
As if the whole occasion wasn't emotional enough, Dayshawn decided he had some important words to share with everyone in the courtroom. He banged the gavel on the table to get everyone's attention. "Yeah, they all love us," the pure-hearted child shared with pride. But that wasn't it...
Dayshawn tapped into his emotions and shared something from the heart. "We love them. Our whole family is the best thing we ever had," the older brother shared. "I'm glad to have these people in my life. I'm glad to be their son." Sara broke down listening to her adopted son's honest words.
Not a Dry Eye in the House
The courtroom was filled with quiet sniffles as Dayshawn continued on with his emotional speech. "They're the best thing I ever had," he confessed to the judge. Finally, after years in limbo, Dayshawn knew that he and his younger brother were right where they belonged.
The heartfelt speech that Dayshawn wasn't lost on his adopted parents, either. While Stuart managed to keep his composure, Sara on the other hand couldn't contain the waterfall of emotions that she was experiencing. But it wasn't over yet - Dayshawn had more to get off his chest.
The Final Word
While Dayshawn's previous comments were directed at the judge, he now had some words to share with his new adoptive parents. And for Sara and Stuart, no words could describe the pride and relief they felt to be the legal parents of the two boys. Finally, the fear of Michael and Dayshawn getting lost in the foster system was gone.
And clearly, Dayshawn felt that relief too. He turned to his new legal parents and drove his point home with one last sentence. "If I could wish for anything in the world, I would wish I could just love these people for the rest of my life," he said.
From the footage of the adoption hearing, it was clear that Sara was overcome with a whole spectrum of feelings. But what was going through her head? She later described August 13th, 2018 as the most emotional moment of her life. But Dayshawn's speech also made her feel bittersweet.
While Sara was elated to be the mother of these two boys, it also saddened her that unconditional love hadn't been a given in these boys' lives from the get-go. "No child should feel grateful to have a family love them," she said on Good Morning America. "It should be a given."
And back in the courtroom, Sara's emotions were echoed on the faces of the family's loyal support group that filled the seats. From Dayshawn's touching speech to the adoption itself, there was certainly a fair share of tears streaming down the faces of those in the courthouse.
But who could blame them? For over three years, friends and family of Sara and Stuart had watched the foster parents fight to keep their family of four together. And with each obstacle they faced, the couple became more attached to the two boys. Finally, they were an official family.
The Missing Piece
The judge had said her piece, and Sara, Stuart, Michael, and Dayshawn were a legal family in the eyes of the law. But in all the celebration, the parents felt that one tiny detail was needed as the cherry on top. Sara and Stuart wanted their sons to feel 100% part of the family, so a little change was in order.
The family of four decided to take the step and all share a last name. So, just like that, Michael and Dayshawn swapped their old last name and became Michael and Dayshawn Cozad! It was a symbol of the journey the four of them had been on to become kin.
Room for More?
With the adoption process done with once and for all, friends and family of Sara and Stuart were curious as to whether the couple had room in their hearts and home to welcome more foster kids? It was an important choice that Sara and Stuart thought long and hard about.
"At our adoption party, I was asked several times if we would continue to foster now that our boys are adopted," Sara explained in the blog entry. "Stuart and I have decided that if we continue to foster, we're going to become a specialized home. " But what would that entail?
Trying to Make a Difference
Sara continued in her LoveWhatMatters post to explain what she and Stuart were hoping to achieve in becoming a specialized foster home. The parents decided that they would focus their efforts on welcoming LGBTQ+ and teen moms from the foster system into their loving home.
"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 for WEEKS (or even months) on end since so few homes are open to them," she wrote. And the Cozads have made quite a difference so far.
"I Cry Every Single Time a Child Leaves"
When Sara posted her blog entry, the 26-year-old mother had fostered 14 children with her loving husband. And while it wasn't always easy, Sara stayed committed to the cause. "People always say, 'Oh, I could never be a foster parent. I would get too attached,'" Sara explained. "And that's true..."
"I cry every single time a child leaves," the mother of two confessed. "[But] the best part about fostering is seeing parents work tremendously hard to get their children back." And how do the newest additions of the Cozad family feel about the fostering arrangement?
Michael and Dayshawn's Reactions
It wouldn't be difficult to imagine that Michael and Dayshawn would have a tough time sharing toys and attention with different children at a moment's notice. But, to Sara and Stuart's delight, the two boys don't show any signs of jealousy with the children being fostered in their home.
In Sara's eyes, her two boys go above and beyond to make each visitor feel welcome - no matter how short or long the stay. Especially Dayshawn, who Sara referred to as a "social butterfly." The empathetic tween has become the family's personal welcoming committee for other foster kids.
A Family Cause
From Michael and Dayshawn's welcoming energy to Sara and Stuart's continued devotion to fostering, it's clear that helping kids is a family cause in the Cozad household. In fact, Sara has channeled her passion for foster care into advocacy as well, and she had a lot of wisdom to share.
From workshops to Instagram activity, the busy mom has devoted all that she can to the field of foster care. And part of that involved honoring her sons' family history of their own. It led the family to take an emotional trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Reconnecting with Family
In the summer of 2020, Sara took Michael and Dayshawn all the way to the Midwest to have a visit with their biological mother. Not only was it a chance for the boys to connect with their roots, but they also had a baby brother to meet! But how did Sara feel about the visit?
"A person who may not have been deemed "safe" a few years ago can change," Sara reflected. It took time to get over her own insecurities and fears, but she was so happy that she connected with her son's biological mother. "I just wish others could see how beautiful open adoptions can be," she shared.
What the Future Holds
While the world of fostering is unpredictable, Sara and Stuart could not be more excited to tackle all of life's adventures and challenges hand-in-hand with their loving sons. They've welcomed countless other kids and teens in need with open arms. And have celebrated some important milestones along the way.
The bubbly tween that once brought an entire courthouse to tears is now a high school student and landed his first summer job! "It honestly just rude how fast kids grow up," the proud mom joked on Instagram. We're sending nothing but love to this inspiring family!