About the Council

Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Legal Advocacy Agency for Children

Our Story
Our Board
Our Staff
Our Supporters
Council for Children’s Rights is Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s leading advocate for children, providing both direct assistance to children in need today and working for the well-being of all children in the future. Our mission is to lead the community to stand up for every child’s right to be safe, healthy, and well-educated.

We serve some of the most at-risk children in Mecklenburg County. Our advocacy work intersects with the lives of children in the areas of education, abuse and neglect, mental health, custody, domestic violence, and juvenile defense. We actively work toward system reforms and public policies that address the needs and future of all children — not just the children we serve.

Council for Children’s Rights was formed in 2006 through the merger of the Council for Children (founded in 1979) and the Children’s Law Center (founded in 1987). Both groups worked tirelessly to advocate for children in crisis, and in merging they created the largest child advocacy agency in the state.

Our Practice Areas


Family Law

The Council is court-appointed to represent the best interests of children caught in the middle of high conflict custody cases.


Juvenile Defense

The Council is the court-appointed public defender to represent all children in juvenile delinquency court who have been accused of a crime.


Mental Health

The Council provides legal representation for every child who faces civil commitment to a mental health hospital or residential treatment facility in Mecklenburg County.



The Council provides expert legal assistance to students who are in the juvenile defense or child welfare systems facing educational challenges, to parents and guardians of students who have special education, Section 504, or discipline-related issues, and to the community at-large through free training sessions.


Research & Policy

The Council conducts important research, analysis, and policy advocacy efforts to reform policies, improve systems, and solve complex problems facing children.

“Our children are my heroes, and I am in awe of their courage and resilience.”

Executive Director Heather Johnson, JD, MSW shares the obstacles and victories of the past year and the vision for a better future for our children in crisis.
2021 Vision Statement

Our Work

We defend and champion the rights of children to be supported and treated with fairness, compassion, and respectregardless of personal obstacles. We work to achieve our mission by:

…providing legal services and advocacy for individual children,

…encouraging our community to use research that informs policies, improves systems, and solves complex problems facing children,

…educating professionals, parents, and caregivers to become more effective advocates,

…and collaborating with community partners by providing expertise, leadership, and support to create solutions that achieve better outcomes for our children.





children served

individual cases

A Letter from Our Board Chair

When I joined the Board of Council for Children’s Rights, I didn’t expect to one day be Board president. By participating on the board, interacting with leaders, staff, and community members, I came to understand the importance of the Council and the impact that it has on the community.

I couldn’t get enough.

I wanted to do what I could to help our children at risk. Together we care for children and give them a voice – in a way that nobody else can or does. Too many kids fall through the cracks of our society’s systems. Without us, that number would be much higher.

Even in the best of times, there are thousands of children in Mecklenburg County that need support. Now, maybe more than ever, children need support and a voice. The pandemic has taken a toll on all of us. We can’t reverse time. We can’t erase the impact. However, as a community, I ask that we do our best to limit the impact on our children in need.

Let’s be honest with ourselves – the pandemic has increased the wealth gap. Some families are better off financially than they were a year ago; however, many families are far worse off. Let’s not let that dictate the future for our children. Children have needs – financial stability, mental health support, access to the internet for school, etc. They also need a voice and a support system. Join CFCR and help provide the services that these children need.

It may feel like the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror. Only time will tell. Regardless, its impact will be lasting. Let’s come together and minimize the lasting impact on our children.


Brian Bonaviri
CFCR Board Chair 2021-22

Our Board of Directors



Brian Bonaviri, President
Grant Thornton LLP

Deb Hanna, President-Elect
Community Leader

Landon Eustache, Past President

Andy Barbee, Treasurer (co-chair)
Greer Walker

Emily Costigan, Treasurer (co-chair)
Bank of America

Anika Kim, Secretary
Bank of America

Keith Atkinson
Nuveen, LLC (a TIAA company)

Sabrina Clark
Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services

Shawn Cone
Community Volunteer

Deb Dilman
Southpark Family Law

Tracey Evans

Wendi Fleener
Duke Energy

Lara Greenberg
Alston & Bird LLP

Deborah Hampton
Duke Energy

Eva Karageorgiou
Duke Energy

Anne Lord
Lord Law Firm

Mujtaba Mohammed
Mecklenburg County Public Defender’s Office

Sarah Negus
Moore & Van Allen

Windy Oliver
Wells Fargo

Alexandra O’Rourke
Bank of America

Beth Richek
Wells Fargo

Cory Rodgers
Ernst & Young

Morgan Woods
Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP

Ruben Veliz

Ricky Singh, ex offico
Charlotte Lab School

Our Staff


Heather Johnson, MSW, JD
Executive Director

Christopher Brown
Director of Administration



Amy Vavra, JD
Director of Development

Alaina Smith
Associate Director of Institutional Giving

Elysa Tülek
Database Coordinator



Jaimelee Behrendt-Mihalski, MA
Policy Advocate



Michelle Duprey, JD
Director, Children’s Defense Team

Staisha Hamilton, MSW, LCAS
Social Worker

Cathy Ann King, MSW, PhD candidate
Social Worker

Anthony Masters, JD
Staff Attorney

Breanne Mercer, JD
Staff Attorney

Sarah Shearer
Program Assistant

Charles Sexton, JD
Staff Attorney

Brian Wick, JD
Staff Attorney


Patti Tutone, JD
Director, Custody Advocacy Program

Linda Hurlbert, JD
Staff Attorney

Josh Lee, JD
Staff Attorney

Heather McDonough
Legal Support and Database Manager

Ann Sanders, JD
Staff Attorney

Bridget M. Vanevenhoven, JD
Staff Attorney



Caitlin Whalan Jones, JD
Director, Education Law Program

Daniel Brown, JD
Staff Attorney

J’Mes Douglas
Program Assistant

Stephanie Klitsch, JD
Assistant Director, Education Law Program

Hayley Lampkin Blyth, JD
Staff Attorney

Aly Martin, JD
Staff Attorney

Our Sponsors

Anniversary Sponsor
Catalyst Sponsors
Beacon Sponsors
Promise Sponsors

Our Institutional Supporters

Foundation For The Carolinas

Duke Energy Foundation

First Presbyterian Church

Giles Foundation

George T. Lewis Foundation

North Carolina Interest on Lawyer’s Trust Accounts (IOLTA)

Myers Park United Methodist Church

The Leon Levine Foundation

Christ Church Episcopal Church Women

Sisters of Mercy

Delta Sigma Theta

North Carolina Bar Foundation

Merancas Foundation

Truist Foundation

Gambrell Foundation

North Mecklenburg Women’s Club

St. Gabriel Catholic Church

St. Peter Catholic Church

St. Matthew Catholic Church

Wesley Foundation