Our Mission

Introduction to the Children's Defense Fund

The Children’s Defense Fund Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. 

CDF provides a strong, effective and independent voice for all the children of America who cannot vote, lobby or speak for themselves. We pay particular attention to the needs of poor children, children of color and those with disabilities. CDF educates the nation about the needs of children and encourages preventive investments before they get sick, drop out of school, get into trouble or suffer family breakdown. 

CDF began in 1973 and is a private, nonprofit organization supported by individual donations, foundation, corporate and government grants.

About CDF


About Us

The Children's Defense Fund (CDF) is a non-profit child advocacy organization that has worked relentlessly for more than 40 years to ensure a level playing field for all children. We champion policies and programs that lift children out of poverty; protect them from abuse and neglect; and ensure their access to health care, quality education and a moral and spiritual foundation. Supported by foundation and corporate grants and individual donations, CDF advocates nationwide on behalf of children to ensure children are always a priority.

We are a national organization with the capacity to work for children at federal, state and community levels across the country. We have our headquarters in Washington, D.C., and offices in California, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas. Through these offices, we expand our work into North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Jersey. CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tenn., is our home for spiritual renewal, character and leadership development, intergenerational mentoring, and interracial and interfaith dialog about children's issues.

Leadership & Staff

National Office Senior Leadership

MaryLee Allen
Director of Child Welfare
Gijs deLeede
Chief Financial Officer
Tai Dixon
National Director of State Office and Field Operations
Marian Wright Edelman
Marian Wright Edelman
Patti Hassler
Vice President of Communications and Outreach
Mark Publow
Chief Development Officer

CDF State Office Leadership


Melanie Hartzog
Executive Director
CDF-New York
Alex Johnson
Executive Director
Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald
Southern Regional Director
Patrick Bresette
Executive Director
Peggy Flanagan
Executive Director
Renuka Mayadev
Executive Director
The Rev. Janet Wolf
Haley Farm and Nonviolent Organizing

National and State Office Staff

View Directory

Board of Directors

Lan Bentsen, Co-Chair
Shape Tomorrow
Houston, TX
Carol Oughton Biondi
Board Member, California
State Advisory Committee
on Juvenile Justice &
Delinquency Prevention/
Board Member, ARC
(Anti-Recidivism Coalition
Los Angeles), CA
Angela Glover Blackwell, Co-Chair
Founder and CEO
Oakland, CA
Laphonza Butler
Los Angeles, CA
Deborah S. Cogut
Co-Founder and Vice Chair
The Polyphony Foundation
Greenwich, CT
Malaak Compton-Rock
Founder and Director
The Angelrock Project
New York, NY
Marian Wright Edelman
Children's Defense Fund
Washington, DC
DD Eisenberg
Child Advocate
Coral Gables, FL
Pat Fallon
Fallon Worldwide
Minneapolis, MN
George Gresham
Winifred Green
Southern Coalition for
Educational Equity
New Orleans, LA
George Gresham
1199 SEIU
Bronx, NY
Clay Grubb
Grubb Properties, Inc.
Charlotte, NC
Ruth-Ann Huvane
Child Advocate
Los Angeles, CA

Deborah Jewell-Sherman
Urban Superintendents Program
and Professor of Practice,
Harvard Graduate School
of Education, MA

Katie McGrath
Child Advocate
Los Angeles, CA
Ivanna Omeechevarria
Child Advocate
Alexandria, VA
Wendy Puriefoy
Child Advocate
Boston, MA
Martin Rodgers
Managing Director
Washington, DC Metro
Office and Executive
Director of Accenture’s
Nonprofit Group
Jurnee Smollett
Jurnee Smollett-Bell
Los Angeles, CA
Bryan Stevenson, Esq.
Founder and Executive Director
Equal Justice Initiative
Montgomery, AL
Laura Wasserman
Child Advocate
Los Angeles, CA
Ali Wentworth
New York, NY
Reese Witherspoon
Los Angeles, CA

Former CDF Board Members and Emeriti

Kirbyjon Caldwell Lucy Hackney Dennis Rivera
Geoffrey Canada,
Chair, 2008 - 2014
Howard Haworth Johnathan Rodgers
Lisle Carter, Jr.
Dorothy Height
Donna E. Shalala,
Chair, 1992 – 1993
Laura Chasin David Hornbeck,
Chair, 1994 – 2005
Barbara Shaw
Hillary Rodham Clinton,
Chair 1986 – 1992
The Reverend William Howard J. Michael Solar
Maureen Cogan James Joseph,
Chair, 1993 – 1994
Susan Thomases
Leonard Coleman, Jr. Deborah Leff Thomas Troyer
Leslie Cornfeld, Esq. Marilyn Levitt Jason Tyler
Leslee Dart William Lynch, Jr.
Robert Vagt,
Chair, 2005 – 2008
John Deardourff
Charles Merrill, Jr. Suzanne Weil
James Forbes, Jr. Heidi Miller Abigail Wexner
James Forman, Jr. Eileen Norton Deborah Wright
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Leonard Riggio  
Our History

The Children's Defense Fund grew out of the Civil Rights Movement under the leadership of Marian Wright Edelman. The first Black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, Mrs. Edelman directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in Jackson, Miss.; worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as counsel for his Poor People's Campaign; and dedicated her early career to defending the civil liberties of people struggling to overcome poverty and discrimination. In 1969, Mrs. Edelman began the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm that monitored federal programs for low-income families and, out of that initiative, she founded the Children's Defense Fund in 1973.

From our inception, the Children's Defense Fund has challenged the United States to raise its standards by improving policies and programs for children. Over the years, we have become known for careful research on children’s survival, protection and development in all racial and income groups and for independent analyses of how federal and state policies affect children, their families and their communities. We let the public know how effectively their elected officials stand up for children. Through this work, we have influenced the child policy agenda and helped define the results for which we, as a nation, should strive.

For decades, we have partnered with numerous organizations and worked with policy makers to build bipartisan support to enact laws that have helped millions of children fulfill their potential and escape poverty because they received the health care, child care, nurturing, proper nutrition and education they deserve.

Yet, in the wealthiest nation on earth, millions of children still do not get the head start in life they need and the opportunities to fulfill their God-given potential. That is why we must continue to be a loud and persistent voice for every child.

Learn more about CDF's Milestones

CDF Haley Farm

In 1994 the Children’s Defense Fund found a permanent home for our Leave No Child Behind® movement in the beautiful 157-acre farm that once belonged to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alex Haley. Since then tens of thousands of leaders across age, discipline, faith and race have come through the Haley Farm gates for robust discussion, sharing of best practices, training and spiritual renewal.

Nestled in the foothills of the Tennessee mountains near Knoxville, CDF Haley Farm connects young leaders and activists with the glorious heritage of the struggle for freedom, and is where policymakers and community builders come to connect, recharge their spiritual and physical batteries and brainstorm strategies.

The grounds of CDF Haley Farm include a main meeting lodge, modernized guest cottages, the Langston Hughes Library and the Riggio-Lynch Chapel. The ark-shaped chapel symbolizes the safe haven every child deserves. This beautiful, simple, functional and inspiring space is alive with great music and great preaching, prayer and worship, discussion and debate. The Riggio-Lynch Chapel and Langston Hughes Library were both designed by award-winning Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer Maya Lin. To our knowledge Haley Farm is the only site in the country with two Maya Lin structures.

The Children's Defense Fund and its many programs have transformed Haley Farm into a vibrant training ground and place for spiritual renewal and intergenerational, interdisciplinary, interfaith and interracial communication to prepare new leaders for children and the poor. We invite you to visit this sacred space.

Click here for directions or rental information

Langston Hughes Library 

The Langston Hughes Library is a private, non-circulating, 5,000-volume reference collection and reading room. Dedicated in 1999 in honor of one of America's most important and prolific writers, the library is used by children's advocates, spiritual leaders, educators, civil rights leaders, authors, illustrators, publishers, scholars, teachers, librarians and students who come to Haley Farm for training, leadership development, reflection and inspiration. The reading room is named after acclaimed poet and novelist Dr. Maya Angelou and renowned historian Dr. John Hope Franklin. A sitting area is dedicated to civil rights heroine Rosa Parks.

Through the generosity of Barnes & Noble Chairman Leonard Riggio, and his wife, Louise, this cantilever barn was restored and recreated as a modern, comfortable, sky-lit reading room by Maya Lin, the award-winning Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer.

The library's unique collection focuses on written works by African American authors, children's picture books illustrated by African American illustrators, and books about the Black experience. The collection specializes in publications about children's advocacy; spirituality; nonviolence; the Civil Rights Movement, with particular attention to the role of women; women's leadership; African American history, literature, and culture; African culture and history; and children's literature. Special highlights of the collection are the hundreds of books that have been chosen as CDF Freedom Schools® books. These selections have been read by hundreds of children as participants in the CDF Freedom Schools program held in many cities across the country. Other highlights of the library collection include the following:

  • Children's Defense Fund® publications
  • Federal government studies on child welfare
  • Signed first editions of many renowned authors and illustrators

In the past, the Langston Hughes Library has played host to the following events:

The Langston Hughes Library Roundtable brought together authors, illustrators, librarians, scholars and publishers to discuss empowering children and youth through literature and the expansion of books presenting positive images of Black children.

The Langston Hughes Children's Literature Festival celebrated the Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes. The festival showcased Hughes's poetry, fiction and non-fiction works for children through readings, visual arts, music and dance.

Each year, the Langston Hughes Library sponsors programs to acquaint the public with African American authors and their works. Middle school, high school and college students in the area visit the library for instruction in African American literature and to browse the collection housed in the library. Each February, the Langston Hughes Library participates in the national observance of the African American Read-In, sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Other events at the library provide an open forum to nurture, teach and empower people to work on behalf of children.

Riggio-Lynch Interfaith Chapel 

The Riggio-Lynch Chapel was made possible by the generosity of Barnes & Noble Chairman Leonard Riggio and his wife, Louise Riggio. After the events of September 11, 2001, Mr. Riggio felt the need to do something to establish a place for people to find comfort and peace and to be renewed and strengthened. Award-winning Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer Maya Lin, who also designed the Langston Hughes Library at Haley Farm, designed the Riggio-Lynch Chapel as well. To our knowledge, Haley Farm is the only site in the country with two Maya Lin structures.

The interfaith chapel is named in honor of Leonard Riggio and William (Bill) Lynch, former Deputy Mayor of New York City. Mr. Riggio and Mr. Lynch are both former CDF Board members and long-time supporters of CDF. During the dedication service for the chapel on July 18, 2004, Mr. Riggio made the following statement: "In the ark design, Maya Linn has created a new metaphor for the Haley Farm Freedom Schools and a lasting symbol of our covenant to finish the unfinished work of the Civil Rights Movement. The chapel is a place of safety and shelter for the hundreds of young people who come to Haley Farm each year to learn, worship, and train to become the next generation of leadership for children and families."

The chapel resembles a huge ark carrying all of the world's children to safety. The chapel's simple, soaring shape evokes the ark of protection, the fishermen's boats that figured in Jesus' ministry and the small boat drawn by seven-year-old Maria Coté featured in the Children's Defense Fund's logo. The chapel is constructed of cypress siding with a fir roof, deck and beams. An open courtyard links the Chapel's main structure to a smaller, concrete building, which houses an office wing, a meeting room and bell tower. This concrete block building, which is in such sharp contrast to the cypress exterior of the ark-like main building, was designed to resemble the type of building found in many shipyards where builders' equipment and supplies are kept.

Financial Reports

The Children's Defense Fund (CDF) takes great pride in its financial efficiency and accountability. CDF is supported primarily by foundation and corporate grants and individual donations.

Annual Reports

Financial Statements and Form 990

Independently Verified Information

Click on the images for independently verified information about CDF's finances or visit Guidestar to access the IRS form 990.

BBB Accredited Charity

Independent Charities of America certification

Donating to CDF

Your support enables CDF to work on behalf of America's children. Deepest thanks for your commitment to children and to our work.

Donate today!

State-Specific Registration Information

  • California: Attorney General, Registry of Charitable Trusts, P.O. Box 903447, Sacramento, CA 94203-4476
  • Florida: A copy of the official registration and financial information may be obtained from the Division of Consumer Services by calling toll-free, 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-435-7352) within the state.
  • Illinois: Attorney General, State of Illinois Center, 100 W. Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60601
  • Maryland: For the cost and of copies and postage, Office of the Secretary of State, State House, Annapolis, MD 21401
  • Michigan: Department of Attorney General, Charitable Trust Section, P.O. Box 30214, Lansing, MI 48909
  • Minnesota: Office of Attorney General, Charities Division, 340 Bremer Tower, St. Paul, MN 55101
  • Mississippi: The official registration and financial information of Children’s Defense Fund may be obtained from the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office by calling 1-888-236-6167
  • New Jersey: Division of Consumer Affairs, Charities Registration Section, 1207 Raymond Boulevard, Seventh Floor, Newark, NJ 07102
  • New York: Office of Charities Registration, 162 Washington Street, Albany, NY 12231
  • North Carolina: A copy of the license to solicit charitable contributions as a charitable organization or sponsor and financial information may be obtained from the Department of Human Services, Solicitation Licensing Branch, by calling (919) 733-4510. Registration does not imply endorsement, approval or recommendation by the state.
  • Pennsylvania: The official registration of CDF may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll-free, within Pennsylvania, 1-800-732-0999. Registration does not imply endorsement
  • South Carolina: Secretary of State, Division of Public Charities, P.O. Box 11350, Columbia, SC 29211
  • Virginia: State Division of Consumer Affairs, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, P.O. Box 1163, Richmond, VA 23209
  • Washington: Charities Division, Office of the Secretary of State, Olympia, WA 98504-0422, 1-800-332-4483
  • West Virginia: Residents may obtain a summary from: Secretary of State, State Capitol, Charleston, WV 25305. Registration with any of these governmental agencies does not imply endorsement by the state.
Join Our Team

Jobs at CDF

Employees of the Children's Defense Fund are dedicated to its mission to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. The work is meaningful and the people are great and your contributions will continue to help us to achieve our mission. The Children’s Defense Fund offers a comprehensive package of health and wellness benefits to employees and their families to ensure personal and financial health and well-being, as well as to provide some protection from significant financial harm due to prolonged injury, illness or death. In addition to the health and wellness benefits we also offer employees a discount on personal computer purchases through the Dell Employee Purchase Program. We strive to provide all employees a variety of benefits that are meaningful to them.

Learn more about positions currently available at CDF.

Internships at CDF

About 70 undergraduate, graduate and recent graduates intern in the CDF Washington, D.C. office each year and while a few of the internships give preference to certain majors everyone with a strong interest in child advocacy is encouraged to apply. CDF interns gain knowledge, skills, and experience for a lifetime commitment as a child advocate and public policy leader. They also get an insider's view of non-profit advocacy.

Learn more about CDF's Internship program and how to apply.