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

Greetings All,

Serving as the President of the Board of Directors for the Council for Children’s Rights is a privilege and honor that I hold in the highest regard.  As I reflect further, this makes sense because I also hold children—their needs, their causes, and those of their caregivers—in the highest regard.  Simply put, meeting the needs of the population that Council for Children’s Rights serves is my mission.

As a long-time social worker and child advocate of over 20 years, I deeply understand Council’s work, and the strengths and opportunities therein.  I know all too well the feeling of striving to do all that you can to meet the educational, mental health, and overall well-being needs of children and families and still feeling as though what you’ve done—what the child-serving systems and broader society equip you to do—is not enough.  Yet, we persist.

Throughout this year, I invite you to join me in putting Council—and the needs of the agency’s staff and all who they serve—FIRST.  I encourage you to put Council FIRST in the allocation of your time, talent, treasure, and testimony—because the children and families of Mecklenburg County need us to do so.

                       Yours in standing up & speaking out,

                      Sabrina Clark, LAPSW, CSWM                           

                      CFCR Board Chair 2023-2024

Our Board of Directors


Sabrina Clark, President
Mecklenburg County DSS-YFS

Deb Dilman, President-Elect
Southpark Family Law

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


Keith Atkinson
Nuveen, LLC (a TIAA company)

Brian Bernhardt 
Fox Rothschild LLP                        

Amanda Christie
Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP

Kim Cochran                                  Novant Health

Shawn Cone
Community Volunteer

Virginia Covill                                Leading On Opportunity

Landon Eustache PricewaterhouseCoopers

Lara Greenberg
Nixon Peabody LLP




Katherine Hickman                    Helen Adams Realty

Najla Long
Bradley LLP

Sarah Negus
Moore & Van Allen

Windy Oliver
Wells Fargo

T. Richmond McPherson, III McGuireWoods LLP

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

Alaina Smith
Associate Director of Institutional Giving

Alexandra Russell
Director Relations Coordinator                                                           



Heather Johnson, MSW, JD
Executive Director

Robert Pinka
Director, Impact and Policy



Michelle Duprey, JD
Director, Children’s Defense Team

Anthony Masters, JD
Staff Attorney

Breanne Mercer, 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

Sheila Passenant, JD
Staff Attorney

Sarah Vimont, 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

Susannah Barr, JD
Staff Attorney

Emily Mikkelsen
Policy Advocate



Form 990s