Foster mother Jocelyn Hattenberger shares in her own words what it meant to have a court appointed advocate on Sariyah's side.
When I became Sariyah's foster mother, she had 26 broken bones, a feeding tube and various scars over her entire body. She was 2½ months old, but she had already endured a lifetime of abuse. Yet she smiled and lit up the room. This child, who was broken and scarred, was the most beautiful baby with the most radiant smile I had ever seen. At her hospital follow-up appointment, I became physically sick looking at x-ray after x-ray of broken bones, listening to the doctor outline her injuries and hearing that areas of her brain were dead from a lack of oxygen. I listened in disbelief as I was told that she would probably never walk, talk or eat on her own. Thankfully, God had other plans, and my disbelief was justified as her feeding tube came out after only a month. Sariyah met every milestone on time and walked at only 10 months old. She is an amazing miracle.
This case that seemed open-and-shut became intensely confusing as blame was passed back and forth, and soon the criminal case was closed from lack of evidence. No one could figure out who had hurt this precious child. To further complicate things, Sariyah's mother was a child in need of support herself. I feared that justice and protection for this child would never come.
Then I received a call—the saving grace call—that would provide my princess with the protection she deserved and had never been given in her short life. She was receiving the gift of a Child Advocate; the gift of someone to stand up for her rights and advocate for her young life. She was given a voice in a young man named Iann. Iann and his Advocacy Coordinator showed up for Sariyah at every turn. They came to visitations, spoke up for her in court and helped with the communication between myself and the caseworker. Iann even joined the celebration of her first birthday.
Although Sariyah's mother completed her service plan, she did not have stable housing or a steady source of income to support Sariyah. There was a disagreement about whom she should live with on a permanent basis. Eventually, the case was referred to mediation to help determine the best placement for Sariyah. Iann and his Advocacy Coordinator championed Sariyah’s case for hours during mediation. In an unconventional move, it was decided that I should be given permanent legal custody of Sariyah with her mother getting visitation rights.
Without a doubt, I can say that without Sariyah’s advocate heroes this would not have been the outcome. Without Iann fighting for her, Sariyah’s life and mine would have been drastically different. Instead, Sariyah was given the opportunity to live permanently in the home she had known since she was 2½ months old. She now has stability and a family who loves her to the moon and back. Sariyah also gets to have a relationship with her biological mother, whom she sees every other weekend and talks to during the week.
Sariyah is now four years old. She has not only survived her horrific start in life but thrived. She is an amazingly joyful, caring and funny little girl who brings so much happiness to our family. Child Advocates not only gave Sariyah a voice but also saved her future and helped make her the incredible child she is today. And for that I will be forever grateful.