“When children don’t have words, their behavior becomes their language. All of us who care about children need to understand that. We can’t sanction children who lack language for their behavior and put them out of preschool or grade school, because they need education the most. They need the supports, services, and learning opportunities. When we do sanction them, we’re pushing them into the school-to-prison pipeline. But, when we apply science to practice as a guide to support and nurture children beginning in their early years, the greater their success throughout their lives.”

Judge Peggy Walker, Douglas County Juvenile Court (retired)

In her role as a juvenile court judge in Douglas County and on the Campaign Cabinet, Judge Peggy Walker is building awareness regarding what neuroscience tells us about child development and trauma, and the importance of nurturing children’s resilience. The legal field has been deepening its understanding of the science of trauma and the impact it has on brain development, physical growth, and vocabulary development. A growing number of juvenile court judges are now applying that science to their practice, which strengthens the alignment between the courts and the education field.

When children experience abuse and neglect or don’t receive consistent love and support from the adults in their lives, a nurturing and supportive environment at school can be a protective factor that helps them succeed. But, when children are sanctioned because of their behavior and they miss school and fall even farther behind, their early challenges compound and can lead to a lifetime of problems. As a former teacher, Judge Walker knows that education is the key to future success and hinges on the ability to read—and she is committed to ensuring the children who need these supports receive them.

By promoting Language Nutrition to ensure children have the words to express themselves; offering access to the food, shelter, and health services they need; and providing positive learning climates where children can develop nurturing relationships with teachers and peers, Georgia leaders can support children who experience abuse and neglect rather than sanctioning and punishing them—resulting in poor outcomes over the course of their lives.

This video, narrated by Walker, explains how law and policy should be aligned with the science of brain development in order to build the capabilities of caregivers and strengthen communities.

Walker reveals in this lightning talk how we can provide a safe and appropriate future—not just for our children—but for all of us.