Children's Defense Fund Programs

For more than 40 years, CDF has worked closely with state and local child advocates as well as national and state organizations serving children to level the playing field for children through a variety of programs and initiatives. CDF has worked to educate the public on our children at risk and provide them with the necessary tools to apply pressure to the political establishment to improve the lives of children.

Our current programs build upon this long legacy of success by empowering communities and advocates to create the change our children urgently need.

CDF Beat the Odds® Program

The CDF Beat the Odds program honors outstanding high schools students who have overcome tremendous adversity, demonstrated academic excellence and given back to their communities. Started in 1990, the program identifies and rewards young people who have experienced significant hardship in their lives and supports and trains them to become future leaders in adulthood. CDF holds five high-profile awards events to send a clear signal that someone does care and understand what it takes to stay in school and do well while coping with adversity in their personal lives. The program is held each year in California, Washington, D.C., Texas, Minnesota, New York, and Ohio. Not only do these awards events celebrate the scholarship recipients, they demonstrate that behind each successful child is at least one caring adult. They also are meant to inspire community leaders and citizens who want to help children struggling to overcome adversity. CDF encourages you to attend one of these events and learn more about how you can help support outstanding high school students.

If you don't live in one of the six cities where CDF hosts Beat the Odds® celebrations, there are still many ways you can support the program. Please contact LaVeta Hughes for more information at or (202) 662-3612.

Learn More about CDF's Beat the Odds program

CDF Freedom Schools® Program

The CDF Freedom Schools® program seeks to build strong, literate, and empowered children prepared to make a difference in themselves, their families, communities, nation and world today. By providing summer and after-school reading enrichment for children who might otherwise not have access to books, the CDF Freedom Schools program plays a much needed role in helping to curb summer learning loss and close achievement gaps – and is a key part of CDF’s work to ensure a level playing field for all children.

In partnership with local congregations, schools, colleges and universities, community organizations, and secure juvenile justice facilities the CDF Freedom Schools program boosts student motivation to read, generates more positive attitudes toward learning, increases self-esteem and connects the needs of children and families to the resources of their communities. Since 1995, more than 125,000 preK-12 children have had a CDF Freedom Schools experience and more than 15,000 college students and recent graduates have been trained by CDF to deliver this empowering model.

The CDF Freedom Schools model incorporates the totality of the Children's Defense Fund's mission by fostering environments that support children and young adults to excel and believe in their ability to make a difference Site coordinators and project directors are also trained by CDF to provide supervision and administrative oversight.

Learn More about the CDF Freedom Schools program.

Youth Development & Leadership

Policy in action is a distinguishing CDF characteristic. Through nationwide initiatives and community-based programs, we plant the seeds to develop the next generation of servant-leaders who will continue to reweave the fabric of community for children and youth. Our vision is to create a successor generation of servant-leaders who will drive community and national transformations and inspire and make long-term improvements for children.

Learn more about CDF's Youth Development and Leadership Programs

Faith Based Action

For more than 20 years, CDF has worked closely with national religious leaders and organizations, state and regional bodies, and local congregations, leaders, and lay people. Religious people and organizations—with millions of members, deep roots in communities across the country, a history of caring for children, and moral authority—are indispensable to building a successful Leave No Child Behind® movement.

Learn more about CDF's Faith-Based Action