KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — According to the Department of Children’s Services, so far in 2021, more than 16,000 children in foster care found their forever home in Tennessee.
About 80% of children who are adopted in Tennessee are adopted by their foster parents, including the Coker family. The family adopted Regan and Braelynn who were both worried about aging out of the foster care system.
Jonathan and Shanna Coker have been together for more than 15 years and have been planning their future since they were kids. “We’ve been together since high school since we were about 15 and in our late teenage years, 18, 19 or so we actually talked about the possibility of, in our future, when we’re ready to possibly adopt,” said Jonathan.
Their dream became a reality after Jonathan spent a few years working at a children’s home. There, he saw the need for foster and adoptive parents firsthand.
“Most families, they want babies or small children, and it’s rare for somebody to go for the teenagers.” When the Cokers saw the need for teen adoptions, they knew they wanted to take on the challenge.
Shanna Coker said, “Reagan was our first placement. They had contacted us and asked us about this potential teen that was looking for an adoptive home.”
Reagan was in a group home before meeting Jonathan and Shanna. “When I first heard about them, I was like kind of nervous, but I was like kind of hopeful and excited,” she explained.
“She was 15 at the time. So, we felt like she should have a say so in it as well. So, we talked to her about it, and we all agreed that, you know, we felt like she should move in,” Shanna said.
Reagan agreed that she should move in. At the same time, Jonathan and Shanna got a call for another teen needing emergency placement.
Braelynn remembers moving in. “I just remember Shanna playing loud music and asking me a lot of questions and she also helped me put my bags in the trunk. I remember that.”
She had been in the foster care system for several years. “I got into foster care in 2017 and I’ve been in multiple places.”
Jonathan and Shanna Coker were her third placement, and at the time she didn’t know it would be her last. It was the start of a new beginning. Reagan and Braelynne were adopted in 2020 by the Cokers.
Now, the two teens can focus on what kids should; like school, learning how to drive, and enjoying life’s little moments. They don’t have to worry about their future in the foster care system.
“You still have to like hope and just know that someone still cares about you and not to give up on that hope,” said Reagan. Braelynn adds, “there’s always somebody out there who wants you.”
Jonathan and Shanna Coker have been planning their future together since they were kids, and now they’re planning their kid’s future.
According to Youth Villages, an organization that focuses on foster care and adoption, nearly 1,000 youth age out of the foster care system every year. Some of these teens are still looking for their forever homes even after turning 18.