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Jessi Hacker

With a household of five children of her own, no one would accuse Jessica Hacker of keeping an empty house. But the Johnson City native found room in her heart and home for one more child in 2003 when she began to foster 5-year-old Jaylin, a girl who desperately needed the love and affection only a mother can give.

At that time, Jaylin weighed only 22 pounds due to severe neglect she suffered before coming to Jessica’s home. Because of her early neglect and physical abuse, Jaylin had developed Reactive Attachment Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder, conditions that cause severe behavioral problems and resistance to authority figures. But Jessica, who was in foster care herself, believes that every child, without exception, deserves the deep and unconditional love of a family. In 2005, she adopted Jaylin.

Jessica said that she felt that no one advocated for her as a small child, and she would not allow the same to happen to Jaylin. “I know what it’s like to be voiceless,” she said. “I want all children to know that they have a voice, and that they are loved.”

Now a single mother, Jessica has worked tirelessly to provide and care for her six children. As Jaylin has grown up, her mother has served as a dedicated advocate for her daughter’s special health needs, ensuring Jaylin gets the care she needs to grow and develop to her fullest potential. When Jaylin was in foster care, there were several support services in place, but after Jaylin’s adoption, Jessica had to navigate the complex mental health care system on her own, seeking out agencies that could provide the specialized mental health services that her daughter desperately needed.

In April 2011, 12-year-old Jaylin was hospitalized for psychiatric evaluation and monitoring. It was her twelfth hospitalization in just two years. Jessica thought Jaylin’s needs would be best served by continued treatment at a residential treatment center, however, TennCare denied the care. Without proper treatment, Jaylin would be released and returned home. Jessica believed that returning home at that point would have been detrimental to Jaylin’s health and safety, as well as that of her other children.

“The biggest problem I faced when they were releasing her is that my options were to put my other children in danger, or put Jaylin in foster care,” Jessica said. Neither was a feasible option.

In December, after filing an appeal to continue Jaylin’s treatment, Jessica reached out to the Tennessee Justice Center for help. Her daughter’s therapist said that she felt Jaylin could no longer be at home safely. Jaylin was able to continue to receive the care she needed while her mom prepared for the hearing.

A hearing was finally held in March, and TJC helped Jessica prepare. Despite the stress and anxiety that comes with being in a legal proceeding, Jessica was a brave and compelling advocate for her daughter.

In May 2012, Jessica received a letter from TennCare stating that she had won her appeal and Jaylin could continue receiving the care she needed. Reflecting back on the appeal, Jessica said, “I couldn’t have done it without TJC. Their help gave me the time we needed to get her stable so she could come home.”

As a result of this continued treatment, Jaylin has not had a violent outburst in nearly a year and has since been able to return home, where she continues to receive out-patient services. Now 14, Jaylin can focus on just being a teenager and enjoying her interests, such as being outdoors, going downtown, and playing basketball. She is even training to run track for the Special Olympics.

Jessica showed incredible courage and tenacity in her fight for Jaylin’s care, and her advocacy continues. Jessica believes that adoptive parents of children with special health care needs lack important support systems that would help them provide appropriate services and treatments for their children. “There are many kids every year who are adopted by families who love them dearly. There has to be a solution for them,” she said.

Because of her compassion, advocacy, and dedication, we are honored to name Jessica as one of our 2013 Mothers of the Year.

Photo credit: Mark Mosrie

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