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Closing Words

Sharing Stories Around the Community Table

Judge Glenda A. Hatchett
National CASA Spokesperson

I was thrilled to speak at National CASA’s 2010 conference in my hometown of Atlanta. I just had to be there to thank those attending. The conference is such a valuable opportunity to bring together child advocates from all around the country, a time to share stories about our work with children. These stories serve to inspire us to keep doing what we’re doing and to point out areas that need new attention. For those of you who could not be in Atlanta, let me tell you the story I related there about the morning when my purpose and my passion intersected.

I had been on the juvenile court bench for only one week. The door to my courtroom opened and in walked this precious 8-year-old child. And he stood there visibly trembling. There was nothing in my judicial training that prepared me for that. I stood up instinctively and started down to where he was. The bailiff shot me a look that told me he didn’t like it, but I had been a mama a whole lot longer than I had been a judge. So I came down and got on my knees so I could look the boy right in the eye. And I said, “I’m going to help you, but I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t know where your mama is.”

The boy’s mother had dropped him off at a shelter several months earlier. She had said, “I’ll be back on July 23.” But she never came back. Now it was October 8. And this little boy had been holding onto hope that if somehow he could just make it to the courtroom that morning, surely his mother would be there to claim him. And when she wasn’t there, he had good reason to tremble. I said, “If you can hold on just a little bit longer, I’m going to do everything in my power to find her.”

So I got back on my bench and said, “I’m going to recess this case and put it on my calendar for 2:00 this afternoon.” The bailiff looked at me like I had lost my mind. Surely I meant two weeks or two months from now. So I repeated, “2:00 today—and I’m issuing a warrant for her arrest for her failure to appear. The deputy sheriffs ought to be able to find her.”

At 1:30 p.m., the sheriffs walked up the courthouse steps with the mother in tow. She had been home, sobering up from a crack high. She came into my courtroom at 2:00 p.m., belligerent and out of control. I had just taken the oath of office and knew I was supposed to exercise judicial temperament. So I tried to be calm. I said, “Ms. So-and-So, I’ve got the caseworker here. We’re going to get this done.” I created a case plan, figuring that she’d need treatment for 30 days and we’d review the case in 45 days. She would come back here, and I’d have this child home in time for Christmas. I pounded my new gavel twice to punctuate my order.

That’s what I thought was going to happen. When she came back for the 45-day follow-up, she hadn’t been anywhere near a drug treatment program much less in one. I thought, this judicial temperament piece is not working, so I said, “We’re going off the record.”

“I’m not playing with you,” I told her. “I do not play when it comes to children. You left this child at the shelter. You said you were coming back. You did not keep your promise. How dare you!?”

Then I tried a threat. “Either you get your stuff together and concentrate on this case plan, or I’m going to recommend to the Department of Family and Children’s Services that your parental rights be terminated so that your son may be adopted by a family who will love him. I am not going to let him grow up in foster care.”

At that point, the mother jumped up to say the boy was too old to be adopted. Now I was really mad. I said, “Don’t make me come down off this bench!”

I took a deep breath, regained my composure and said to her—as I’ve said to thousands since—“Look, I’m a mama. You couldn’t walk through that door and take my children without me putting up the fight of my life. I’m not a violent woman, but I would hurt you over my children. You have got to look at your drug addiction like a stranger coming into your door in the middle of the night and walking out with your most precious gift. And you’ve got to fight it with every ounce of your being.”

And that was the moment we connected. That’s when the mother admitted she had a problem. She went into treatment. She had relapses, and the boy didn’t go home for Christmas like I had hoped. But he went home the following Christmas Eve. And he went home for good.

Now what if that child had had a CASA volunteer? How much more quickly could he have been home? One of the first things I did as presiding judge is help get a CASA program started in Fulton County. We need CASA volunteers! We need children to have caring adults in their lives who will help bridge the gap from here to a brighter tomorrow.

No one else can tell our stories. When the statistics show that each month 572 children come into foster care in Georgia and nearly 800,000 children experience care all over this country each year, we’ve got to write our own new story. When they tell you that a child can’t do something because he’s been in foster care all his life, you’ve got to write a new story that says he can. And when they tell us that it’s too late for these children, we have to tell them that’s the old story—we’re writing a new one of promise and potential for these children. So thank you for your role in this effort. Keep standing boldly, be strong, and know that our children are depending on us for a new day of possibilities.

Honorable Glenda A. Hatchett

Hon. Glenda A. Hatchett is an authority on juvenile issues known for her award-winning television series Judge Hatchett. Her new book Dare to Take Charge comes out in September. See her website for more information: parentpowernow.com.



Comments:
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Anonymous @ 9/19/2010 2:20:10 PM 
C.J.T.
I was raised in what some today might call a very disfunctional home raped by a distent uncle at age five, molested by two other uncles at age eight, raped by a doctor as a young adult. Alcohol and abuse caused my first two marraiges the last one has lasted for twenty seven years. I have raised four wonderful children who all have great jobs and families of their own now. They are wonderful parents and love their children, so I guess I did something right. I was sworn in as a CASA on the 28th day of October 2008 and it has been a life learning experience for me. I had a wonderful life compared to some of the children I have met over the past two years. I will never feel sorry for myself again. I will spend the rest of my days helping the children in my area live the Happy, Healthy and Safe Inviornment that they deserve God Bless our children around the world make a difference become a CASA today.
Anonymous @ 9/13/2010 7:46:03 PM 
I will be sworn in as a CASA in 2 days.....I feel that it is an honor to be a voice for the children that need us the most.
Anonymous @ 9/8/2010 8:18:06 PM 
I was just sworn in as a CASA Volunteer on August 16, 2010. I feel honored to serve in this capacity on behalf of children in need. It has been an eye opening experience already with my first case. My goal is to make a difference in the life of every child who is assigned to me. Reading stories like the one shared by Judge Hatchett and the testimonials above are encouraging. They really put the role of a CASA in perspective and motivate you to want to do as much as you can. Keep sharing your stories; I believe they will help anyone who reads or hears them. God bless you all and God bless the CASA/GAL Volunteers!
Anonymous @ 9/2/2010 3:41:12 PM 
I have been a CASA for over five years now. It is the best thing I have ever done. It is an eye opening experience to a world very few get to know about unless you work in that field. There are so many children being abused and neglected in every town, and every state in the USA. A few words to anyone who is thinking about being a CASA,
Do it be brave,make a difference it will be worth it. Adele
Anonymous @ 9/2/2010 10:45:03 AM 
I spent 14 years in foster homes and while I haven't cured cancer I have been a positive and productive member of society. I have raised 2 sons and have been married almost 25 years. My life is an example of overcoming neglect and abuse. I am waiting for training to start and maybe with CASA I will help some children do their very best as well. 90% of doing anything in this life is the confidence to do it. Michaela
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