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Judge Glenda Hatchett: My Dream for Our Children

CASA spokesperson Judge Glenda HatchettIn 2002, Judge Glenda Hatchett became a National CASA celebrity spokesperson. Familiar to millions through the nationally syndicated television show about her juvenile court room, Judge Hatchett has shared stories about the difference CASA volunteers make in radio and television interviews, in newspaper and magazine columns, and through countless speaking engagements.

As part of our celebration of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, we asked members of the CASA community to share their dreams for children. Judge Hatchett shares her dream below.

I always say, if we want our children to do right, we’ve got to do right by them. And that’s exactly what CASA volunteers do.

When I left corporate America to become a juvenile court judge, I was the parent of two little boys. Healthy, rambunctious, curious children, who never wondered where their next meal was coming from or where they would be sleeping that night.

Life for the children I encountered every day in my courtroom was radically different. I will never forget one of the first little boys I met at the courthouse. He was 6 years old, the same age as my younger son. The police had pulled him off of the median of a busy three-lane street in downtown Atlanta. Dirty, dehydrated and disoriented, it was clear to everyone that the child had not just slipped out of the house that afternoon. He had been terribly neglected over time.

As a juvenile court judge, I fought for this child and thousands of others the way I fought for my own children. Because all children have the same rights— all of our children deserve the same opportunities.

My dream for children is very simple…I dream that every child will know the love and support that my own boys have known, that every child will be safe and that every child will be encouraged to reach for his own dreams.

I firmly believe that—with a lot of work—this dream is attainable. But as I always say, if we want our children to do right, we’ve got to do right by them and that’s exactly what CASA volunteers do.

I can think of hundreds of examples of CASA volunteers standing up for children. But one story really stands out. It was a retired gentleman who had just taken his first case: three young children who had been placed in foster care because their mother suffered from mental illness.

Their caseworkers were struggling to find family members who might care for the children, who could keep them together. Finally, the oldest child remembered an aunt that had been kind to them. Her name was Betsy; she lived in Valdosta, Georgia. That was all he knew.

Valdosta is in South Georgia, hours from Atlanta. This CASA volunteer was determined to do right by these children. He drove down to Valdosta on a Monday morning and started beating the pavement looking for Aunt Betsy. He went to the post office, the barber shops, the cafés and the churches. He stopped people on the street and he did this on Monday, he did it Tuesday, he did it Wednesday and on Thursday he found Aunt Betsy!

In short order, Betsy came back to Atlanta, applied for guardianship of the children and ultimately all three of them went home with her.

What would have happened to these children if their CASA volunteer hadn’t found Aunt Betsy? Unfortunately, I could tell you a lot of those stories too, stories of children who fell through the cracks. It’s not a lack of will; it’s a lack of time, of funds…of volunteers.

To give all of our children the lives and opportunities they deserve, we must all dream together—and act together. We can and we must do right by our children.

The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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