In Their Words | Judge Peggy Walker (J.D. ’86)
Two judges on rehabilitation programs they started
What led you to become a judge in juvenile court?
Becoming a juvenile court judge was not part of my career plan. I was new in Douglasville and wanted to learn about the community and people, so I volunteered to work in juvenile court and found a career that I love where I can use my education as a former teacher and as a lawyer.
You created a program that helps parents with substance abuse problems who have children age 5 and under. Why is it important?
Children under the age of 4 have the highest risk of death in our state, stay in foster care longer and are more likely to reenter foster care than any other age group. When meth hit us so hard, the degree of neglect for infants and toddlers was frightening.
I wanted to serve this preschool population because of the danger of drug-addicted parents caring for very vulnerable children. It has been a great success. We have had nine drug-free babies born to participants. One participant has become a peer advocate and works with our team.
What motivates you to continue doing the work you do?
I believe in the resiliency of children and families. I know if there is just one person who loves and nurtures a child, that child has the potential to succeed.
You are involved in many organizations and committees focused on the well-being and safety of children. What drives the passion you have for these issues?
I am a problem solver. I can read research and understand its application to policy and practice. I also am able to teach others how to implement best practices. I am never willing to settle for the status quo. I believe we can do better even within the limited resources we have.
What is the most challenging issue in juvenile court?
The most challenging issue in all courts is the absence of a mental health system. Also, we use mental health and mental illness interchangeably, but they are very different. In our work, we plant seeds. If we do not address trauma and do not identify all of the issues, we plant the seeds for mental illness. If we treat the family as a whole and address all the issues using science to guide our practices, we plant the seeds for good mental health.
What advice do you have for law students?
They should volunteer and make contacts that will help them get the job they want. I also want students to know the importance of personal integrity. Many times they will face difficult decisions. My advice is do not choose what is easy, do not choose what is best for your career. Choose what is right and everything else will fall into place, because you will have earned the respect and admiration of those who lack your same courage. My last piece of advice is to remember that work is work, but life is faith, family and fun. You must make room for both to
survive and to thrive.
Peggy H. Walker (J.D. ’86) is the chief judge at the Juvenile Court of Douglas County and the immediate past president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. She is vice chair of the Georgia Child Fatality Review Panel.