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

I am so honored this year to serve as the new President of the Board of Directors of the Council for Children’s Rights and to work with such dedicated board members.

Supporting this critically important work is a family commitment for us.  For over 30 years, George and I have served as volunteers and contributed financial support for the Council and its predecessor organizations because we believe so strongly in its mission.

have seen CFCR’s small team of passionate attorneys, social workers, and support associates serve thousands of Charlotte’s most vulnerable children. I am extremely proud of the work they have accomplished to address the individualized needs of each child.  And I am equally as proud of their efforts to advocate for reform in the systems that serve our children to address barriers and gaps that cause inequality in our community.

We do this work not only because it is the right thing to do, but because there is no other agency that focuses exclusively on ensuring that the legal rights of vulnerable children are protected in the courtroom and in schools, and advocating change in the systems that create challenges to their well-being. 

Charlotte’s children are Charlotte’s future and if we invest in them now, I know they will be able to accomplish great things for themselves, our community, and beyond.



Deb Hanna

CFCR Board Chair 2022-2023




Our Board of Directors


Deb Hanna, President
Community Leader

Sabrina Clark, President-Elect
Mecklenburg County DSS-YFS

Brian Bonaviri, Past President
Grant Thornton LLP

Andy Barbee, Treasurer (co-chair)
Greer Walker

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

Deb Dilman, Governance Chair
Southpark Family Law

Anika Kim, Advancement Chair
Bank of America

Keith Atkinson
Nuveen, LLC (a TIAA company)

Amanda Christie
Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP

Shawn Cone
Community Volunteer

Tracey Evans
Community Leader

Wendi Fleener
Duke Energy

Lara Greenberg
Nixon Peabody

Deborah Hampton
Duke Energy

Najla Long
Bradley LLP

Mujtaba Mohammed
Mecklenburg County Public Defender’s Office



 Sarah Negus
Moore & Van Allen

Windy Oliver
Wells Fargo

Beth Richek
Wells Fargo

Cory Rogers
Ernst & Young

Lindsey Smith
Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP

Jennifer Terry
Atrium Health

Morgan Woods Dennis
Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP

Ruben Veliz


Our Staff


Heather Johnson, MSW, JD
Executive Director

Christopher Brown
Director of Administration



Amy Vavra, JD
Director of Advancement

Caitlin Forrest
Associate Director of Advancement

Alaina Smith
Associate Director of Institutional Giving



Heather Johnson, MSW, JD
Executive Director

Robert Pinka
Director, Impact and Policy



Michelle Duprey, JD
Director, Children’s Defense Team

Cathy Ann King, MSW, PhD candidate
Social Worker

Staisha Hamilton, MSW, LCAS
Social Worker

Anthony Masters, JD
Staff Attorney

Breanne Mercer, JD
Staff Attorney

Charles Sexton, JD
Staff Attorney

Billy Vargas, JD
Staff Attorney

Brian Wick, JD
Staff Attorney

Sarah Shearer
Program Assistant



Patti Tutone, JD
Director, Custody Advocacy Program

Linda Hurlbert, JD
Staff Attorney

Leah Jones, JD
Staff Attorney

Heather McDonough
Legal Support and Database Manager

Emma Wilbur
Program Assistant


Caitlin Whalan Jones, JD
Director, Education Law Program

Stephanie Klitsch, JD
Assistant Director, Education Law Program

Daniel Brown, JD
Staff Attorney

Hayley Lampkin Blyth, JD
Staff Attorney

Aly Martin, JD
Staff Attorney

Emily Mikkelsen
Policy Advocate

Zuri Guzman
Program Assistant



Form 990s