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.

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

deb dilman

I am so honored to serve as the President of the Board of Directors of the Council for Children’s Rights and to work with my esteemed board members. In my over 15 years of volunteering for this organization with the Custody Advocacy Program, I have seen first-hand the positive impact this work has on the lives and futures of children. In the last 5 years of also serving in a Board role, especially during the pandemic, I witnessed time and time again the critical necessity our services and interventions provide to our community’s children. Council is uniquely positioned to advocate for our children in times when significant world events, community decisions, and multiple systemic responses negatively impact the lives of children. We make meaningful and positive change a reality.

For me, it is important that we embrace children as “our” children and that “we” share in the responsibility to improve their lives and restore stability and well-being. I am grateful to recognize that “we” includes our staff, our Board, our numerous volunteers, our dedicated donors, and this incredible community. We all stand strong and committed together for the children that depend on us.

I am proud to continue to support this work. Our services are rooted in addressing both the individualized need of children and seeking reform of systems and policies that impact their journey through life. I stand firmly in the belief that all children deserve to be safe, healthy and educated, and am committed this year to increase their equitable opportunity in this community.

I look forward to this year and building the connections we have in this community. Charlotte’s children are our children and Charlotte’s future. Many thanks for your ongoing support of this work and for caring for our children!

Deb Dilman, Board Chair

CFCR Board Chair 2023-2024

Our Board of Directors


Deb Dilman, President
Southpark Family Law

Keith Atkinson, President-Elect
Nuveen, LLC (a TIAA company)

Deb Hanna, Past President
Community Leader

Brian Bonaviri, Treasurer Co-Chair

Emily Costigan, Treasurer Co-Chair
Bank of America

Wendi Fleener, Governance Chair
Duke Energy

Anika Kim, Advancement Chair
Bank of America


Brian Bernhardt
Fox Rothschild LLP

Amanda Christie  
Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP

Kim Cochran                                  Novant Health

Virginia Covill
Leading on Opportunity

Landon Eustache PricewaterhouseCoopers

Lesley Garafola

Najla Long
Barings, LLP



T. Richmond McPherson, III McGuireWoods LLP

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



Our Staff


Heather Johnson, MSW, JD
Executive Director

Christopher Brown
Director of Administration


Amy Vavra, JD
Director of Advancement

Alexandra Russell
Grants Manager

Haleigh Gilman
Donor Relations Coordinator  


Heather Johnson, MSW, JD
Executive Director

Robert Pinka
Director, Impact and Policy

Heather McDonough
Impact and Database Manager


Michelle Duprey, JD
Director, Children’s Defense Team

Anthony Masters, JD
Staff Attorney

Iman McAllister, JD
Staff Attorney

Breanne Mercer, JD
Staff Attorney

Billy Vargas, JD
Staff Attorney

Sarah Shearer
Program Assistant



Patti Tutone, JD
Director, Custody Advocacy Program

Linda Hurlbert, JD
Staff Attorney

Sheila Passenant, JD
Staff Attorney

Sarah Vimont, JD
Staff Attorney

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

Estephani Cruz Santana 
Program Assistant

Emily Kim, JD 
Policy Advocate


Form 990s