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Judge Gives Kids Fighting Chance

Peggy Walker has been the county's only full-time juvenile judge since 1998.

 

Deep inside a labyrinth of hallways and security doors at the , there is a wall where three large bulletin boards—filled to the brim with pictures of smiling children and families—hang.

The boards—she says she could fill more—sit outside Juvenile Court Judge Peggy Walker's office. She says she likes to keep them there to remind her constantly that she is deciding children's futures every day.

As the county's only full-time juvenile judge, Walker is a busy woman. People stop her in the hallway to sign papers as she tells someone else where to find this file or that. She tells a guest she's flying to New Orleans Thursday to teach before the American Bar Association.

Her topic is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and she's pretty darn excited about the whole thing.

Since 1998, Walker has helped shape the lives of thousands of children in Douglas County, and is involved in many local advocacy groups and community organizations. But her influence has reached far beyond the county lines.

Just last year, Walker was elected to the executive committee of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

She's involved on a state level as well. Gov. Nathan Deal appointed her to the Child Fatality Review panel. The group looks at the deaths of all children in the state and looks for ways to prevent fatalities.

All the accolades and fancy titles are nice. But it's the kid who sends her a card saying they've made it, that really touches her heart.

Born in a coal camp in West Virginia, Walker and her family moved to the Atlanta area when she was eight years old. She first became involved with children while at Georgia College in Milledgeville. Her class needed a project and she approached the faculty at Central State Hospital where emotionally disturbed children were housed.

Her class ended up running a token store where the kids could come get toys and candy. She graduated in 1974 with a degree in political science and a minor in education.

She became a teacher in Clayton County, then Fulton. She earned a masters degree from Georgia State, married and had a son. In 1986, Walker entered Georgia State's first law school class. She was managing editor of the law review.

She went into private practice and moved to Douglas County where she had family. She became a Guardian Ad Litem, representing children in the legal system. Dressed in a T-shirt and jeans mostly, she'd go to them, be it at school or at home and "play with them."

After studying all aspects of the case, she'd make a recommendation to a judge. Today, these advocates are volunteers called Court Appointed Special Advocates, (CASA), a group she is heavily involved with.

Today she hears various kinds of cases, but it's mainly abuse and neglect of children. The system tries to work toward unifying families, but sometimes it isn't possible and children have to be taken from their homes.

It's an emotional job. 

Walker says she remembers a case with a 10-year-old boy who wanted to go home and she had to tell him that that was never going to happen.

"Everybody in there was crying," Walker said. "It was excruciating."

Walker says the main problem she sees is with substance abuse, more specifically prescription drugs these days.

"They use it to numb their emotional pain," she said.

Another problem is mental illness, children and parents.

"We don't have a mental health system" in Georgia, she said. "It's fragmented and difficult to access."

Walker says she fights limited resources every day. For instance, there are 183 children in foster care in Douglas County. There are only 24 foster homes. Children have to be sent out of the county and that causes problems with visitation. They have to change schools and doctors. It is definitely not ideal.

When she's not at work, Walker says she is big into exercise, walking and running. She also loves to cook—ribs are her specialty.

Divorced, Walker spends a great deal of her time caring for her mother who has Parkinson’s Disease. She also spends time with her three grandchildren.

Donning her judge's robe for a picture, Walker dashes into the bathroom to check her hair.

On most days, she says, she loves her job. On others, I ask myself "why am I not waiting tables?"

Gary L. Warner February 08, 2012 at 11:09 AM
Great article Holly. Judge Walker is doing a wonderful job for everyone in Douglas county. Her insight, devotion and desire to make a difference has added value to Douglas county that which cannot be calculated. The lives that she has had a positive influence in, will pay dividends for generations. Thank you Judge Walker!
Tracy Faith Clark February 08, 2012 at 03:15 PM
I saw this story on FB through a friend. I grew up in D-Ville. Went to all three High schools and was one of "those" Juveniles ;) Now 42 with 4 children of my own, I run a non-profit intervention effort for at risk teens in Greenville SC (Sharing Inc RISE) because of the area I grew up in (metro ATL). I PRAISE Judge Walker for her continued efforts and Never Giving Up on the kids!!! It is a calling and we would not be happy if we left the road.
Sarah Whitlow February 08, 2012 at 06:36 PM
I was one of the children who she had helped change their lives. She never once acted like this was just a job, or that I was just another child. She was one of the only people that believed in me, gave me chance after chance. She cared about me & what happened to me. She took the time out of her schedule to spend with me & my family to help us. SHE CHANGED MY LIFE FOR THE BETTER. She is & always has been one of the most influential people in my life. It is some of the words from her & my Father that I carry with me always & use to raise MY children. I would LOVE for her to know this! She KNOWS who I am! -Sarah Ponder-
Dana Renton February 08, 2012 at 11:00 PM
She is wonderful when it comes to doing the best thing for a child. I know her personally and have watched her over the years do what is best and right for the children. Keep doing the great work
kim johnson February 08, 2012 at 11:15 PM
She is still one of the women I admire most.
Fabiola February 21, 2012 at 12:58 PM
You are a woman who fights and defends abused children from the womb of the mother in pregnancy. I admire you. Also in the state of Georgia need judges with expertise in adult and fetal alcohol thus help these people with brain injury to be treated and judged as mentally ill and not as criminals and give them treatment and consideration and thus get that prisons are not so full. People with brain injury of FAS with the disease do not learn or are cured with punishment, because it is a permanent condition. I ask more judges experts Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Adoptive mother.
pam February 23, 2013 at 05:38 AM
I seen her send children back around a mother that had been beating on them and leaving them without food. The children are terrified of this women yet they were ordered to go back around her. I pray nothing happens to these children even DFCS was against it happening.
Well aware June 19, 2013 at 05:31 AM
All the pictures of the families outside her courtroom are of women with their kids- no men. The entire juvenile court is women in Douglas County. No different than the posts you read here. The facts are women are treated fair in her court and men are not. Argue all you want her case history is one sided as it gets. Sure she may help some children and that she should but not by default. Here is case fact- substantiated child abuse while in mothers care confirmed by Childrens Health Care of Atlanta and child's pediatrician, Walker at the same emergency court still gives custody to mother. Case fact- Dr. Heredeen highly respected recommends children not go with mother but with father, she gives to mother and two days later father has to call police in Virgina to help with mother beating children. Once this father got into superior court he then got full custody as did the first father. No, she is not making correct decisions.
Well aware June 19, 2013 at 05:42 AM
To the first five women that posted, come on, really .... you all post in the same day. Not only to I find that odd but I'm sure you are associated with Walker. I find it difficult to call her honorable, just because you don a black robe doesn't make you honorable. I suppose the don't call it "juvenile" court for nothing. To the 5 posts and walkers court room I guess the defenition of juvenile, physiologically immature or undeveloped, does apply!

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