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Staff

Sandy Santana

Executive Director

Sandy Santana joined Children’s Rights as chief operating officer in 2012 and became executive director in 2015. From 2006 to 2012, Sandy served as Managing Director of Legal Outreach, an organization that levels the educational playing field for minority, low income, and first-generation students through rigorous academic programming. Prior to joining Legal Outreach, he was a corporate associate in the Boston office of Goodwin Procter LLP and in the New York office of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton LLP. His legal practice focused on international corporate finance, securities, mergers and acquisitions, and private equity matters.

Sandy is the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Jeremiah Program, a national organization leveraging education to disrupt the cycle of poverty for single mothers and their children, two generations at a time.  He also serves on the Board of Directors of Manhattan Legal Services, an organization that provides free legal representation to fight poverty and promote racial, social, and economic justice for low-income New Yorkers. Sandy received his B.A. from Harvard College and his J.D. from Columbia Law School.

Our Executive Team

Samantha Bartosz joined Children’s Rights following 17 years as a litigation attorney in Chicago and as a government lawyer in Washington, DC. She served within the Executive Office of the President during the second term of President William Jefferson Clinton, where she provided counsel to senior White House officials on a variety of legislative, policy, and administrative matters. During this time, she represented the Executive Office of the President in a wide range of congressional, independent counsel, and Justice Department investigations. Prior to joining the Clinton Administration, Samantha was a partner in a private law firm practice where she addressed commercial, environmental, civil rights, criminal, product liability, and shareholder disputes. She also served as Assistant Special State’s Attorney for DuPage County, IL, in a special grand jury investigation and subsequent criminal trial against former prosecutors and police officers for obstruction of justice.

At Children’s Rights, Samantha has conducted an extensive litigation practice and successfully obtained consent decrees or a court injunction on behalf of classes of children in federal actions brought in Michigan, Rhode Island, Missouri, and Texas. She earned her B.A. from the University of Notre Dame and graduated from the Loyola University School of Law in 1986. Samantha has presented as a featured speaker at multiple American Bar Association and National Association of Counsel for Children annual conferences.

Aaron Finch joined Children’s Rights in 2012. Among other things, he was a member of the team that successfully received a post-trial injunction mandating improvement to Texas’s child welfare system in M.D. v. Perry; and he led the team that successfully sued the DeKalb County Sheriff, requiring her to provide special education to youth in her jail. He has also represented individual youth in immigration matters. Aaron received his B.A. from Haverford College in 2006 and his J.D. from New York University School of Law in 2012, where he served as Development Editor on the NYU Annual Survey of American Law. While in law school, Aaron interned with the Federal District Court of the Virgin Islands and the New York State Housing Finance Agency. Before attending law school, Aaron ran a home for children in South Africa.

Harry Frischer is the Chief Counsel of Children’s Rights. He joined Children’s Rights in 2016 after retiring as a litigation partner at Proskauer Rose LLP. Harry has more than 40 years’ experience conducting complex litigations. He has tried cases in federal courts, state courts, and numerous arbitration forums, and has argued appeals in the United States Circuit Court of Appeals and state appellate courts. At Children’s Rights, Harry heads teams of attorneys representing children in class action litigation in various jurisdictions throughout the United States seeking structural reform of child welfare, juvenile incarceration, education, and healthcare systems. He served as the lead trial attorney in the successful trial of a class action on behalf of incarcerated youth in Iowa, which resulted in a Court order prohibiting solitary confinement and punitive restraints and requiring the State to provide adequate mental health care.

Harry holds a B.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a J.D. from Columbia Law School, where he was an editor of the Columbia Law Review, a James Kent Scholar and a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar. A passionate advocate for children, he served on the board of New York City’s Court Appointed Special Advocates for more than a decade, including four years as chairman.

Camilla Jenkins joined Children’s Rights in June 2018. Previously, she served as the Director of Communications at the New York Legal Assistance Group, a legal services provider serving low-income New Yorkers, where she was responsible for raising awareness for the vital role that legal representation plays in combatting discrimination, ending poverty and creating opportunity. She was also the Director of Communication at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, managing the firm’s media relations program to drive recognition for the expertise and leadership of its partners, and its longstanding commitment to pro bono work.

During her corporate career Ms. Jenkins was the Vice President of Communications at Fujifilm America, where she led marketing and communications for the company’s US affiliates at a time when Fujifilm was repositioning its brand as the market dramatically shifted from analog to digital technology. Earlier, she managed communications for the multinational healthcare firm, Becton Dickinson and Company and founded and grew her own PR/Marketing agency serving clients in the retail, technology, health care, and media.

Darlene Larsen took the post of Chief Development Officer at Children’s Rights in spring of 2022. She joins Children’s Rights with extensive experience in managing and growing fundraising efforts, and a deep respect for philanthropic partners and supporters. She has served in development leadership positions at several prominent global organizations, including the International Rescue Committee and the Center for Reproductive Rights, and at New York based organizations, including Bideawee Home Association and St. Luke’s Cornwall Health System Foundation. Prior to management and fundraising, she worked as a social worker, primarily focusing on children in therapeutic foster care. Darlene has a B.A. in history and anthropology from Hofstra University. She is a member of Women in Development and the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Ira Lustbader is the Litigation Director and Chief Program Officer at Children’s Rights. Ira has been with Children’s Rights since 1999, and directs its national program of campaigns to disrupt and address structural failures in child-serving systems such as child welfare, juvenile justice, and health care systems, as well as the development of partnerships and coalitions. He oversees Children’s Rights’ work in partnership with other NGO’s and pro bono law firms in federal civil rights class action litigation, which includes cases at various stages in over 20 states at any given time. Prior to joining Children’s Rights, Ira was a civil litigator at two New York City law firms. He is on the leadership team of the ABA Litigation Section Children’s Rights Litigation Committee, was a 2016 Children and Family Leadership Fellow at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and has presented and published on issues concerning the rights of children and government accountability. Ira received his bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Albany and his law degree from Boston University School of Law.

Marjorie McAndrews joined Children’s Rights as Director of Finance in August 2012. Previously, she served as the Director of Finance at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, a multi-service non-profit that advises on and manages nearly $200 million in annual giving in more than 50 countries. She was also Chief Financial Officer and Director of Administration of the Fund for the City of New York, where she oversaw and directed administrative and financial management of a multi-service non-profit with a budget of $30 million and 250 employees at multiple sites.

During her corporate career at Verizon, she was selected to the Chairman’s elite Finance Process Review team. As a result of her work, resources were re-directed that reduced costs, attained best-in-class status, and saved $35 million in annual expenses.

Marjorie earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics from Molloy College. She has also completed executive-level leadership training from Columbia University and University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School. She enjoys swimming, biking, cooking, and entertaining for family and friends.

Marissa C. Nardi is a Lead Counsel at Children’s Rights. Since joining Children’s Rights in 2018, she has led or helped lead investigations, federal class action litigations, and monitoring cases on behalf of children in state systems. Marissa is currently leading the Bryan C. v. Lambrew litigation and the C.P.X. v. Garcia monitoring case.

Prior to joining Children’s Rights, she was litigation associate at Winston & Strawn LLP in New York, where she primarily practiced antitrust litigation while maintaining an award-winning pro bono practice. Marissa’s pro bono experiences include successfully first-chairing an asylum trial, achieving guardianship for an unaccompanied minor, prompting a federal investigation and litigation on human trafficking, and helping free a wrongfully convicted person from prison.

Marissa earned a J.D. with an advocacy concentration in 2012 from Cornell Law School, where she served as Note Editor for the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Head Coach of the Cornell University Mock Trial Team, and President of the Cornell Law School Mock Trial Board. In 2009, she received a B.A. in Psychology, cum laude, and with departmental honors, with minors in Anthropology and Dance from Barnard College of Columbia University. In her spare time, Marissa enjoys dancing, volunteering, and travelling.

Susan Reeves is the Director of Talent & Operations at Children’s Rights. She joined Children’s Rights as the Executive Assistant to the Founder and Executive Director in August of 2009. Since stepping into her latest role in late 2019, Susan has been responsible for the organization’s support structure. She directs all human resources functions, facilities management, and office services (including information technology management and systems development), with a focus on integrating those functions with the operations of the organization. Prior to her employment at Children’s Rights, Susan worked at the global public relations firm Porter Novelli as Vice President of Corporate Human Resources.

Susan graduated from New York University, summa cum laude, and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences with a concentration in International Studies.

Leecia Welch joined Children’s Rights in September 2021. She brings extensive legal experience in the child welfare field, including 17 years at the National Center for Youth Law where she was most recently the Senior Director of Child Welfare and Legal Advocacy.

Leecia is co-counsel in the seminal Flores v. Garland case, representing a nationwide class of detained immigrant children to enforce a settlement that governs their release and treatment in federal immigration custody. She has also served as co-counsel in M.B. v. Tidball, which resulted in a groundbreaking settlement reforming the use of psychotropic medications on children in Missouri’s foster care system, and M.B. v. Howard, which addressed extreme housing instability and inadequate mental health care services for foster children in Kansas. She is also class counsel on D.S. v. Washington DCYF, which demands that the state end its practice of forcing youth in foster care to sleep in unlicensed and unsafe settings, including hotels, and provide youth with the services and supports necessary for prompt reunification or placement in family-like settings

Leecia has been recognized by the American Bar Association, the California State Bar, the Impact Fund, and was the 2021 Janet Reno Endowment Women’s Leadership Award.

Shereen A. White joined Children’s Rights in 2019 as a Senior Staff Attorney. In 2021, she took on the role as CR’s first Director of Advocacy & Policy. Her work focuses on expanding community and organizational partnerships to collectively reimagine systems impacting youth and families. Prior to joining CR, she represented The School District of Philadelphia in special education matters as an Assistant General Counsel. Shereen also represented children involved in the child welfare system as a Child Advocate Attorney at the Defender Association of Philadelphia. Early in her career, she was a Commercial Litigation and Family Law Associate at Fox Rothschild, LLP.

Shereen earned a J.D. from Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law in 2009. She was actively involved in the school’s Inclusiveness Commission and Black Law Students Association and volunteered at local nonprofits, including the SeniorLAW Center and Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania. She received her B.A. in Political Science with a minor in History from Duke University. She is a Board Member and Co-Chair of the Governance Committee for her community library, The Free Library of New Hope & Solebury. Outside of work, Shereen enjoys weekend walks and family movies with her husband and two sons.

Our Staff

Valerie Achille joined Children’s Rights as a Staff Attorney in 2022. She received a History and American Studies B.A., magna cum laude, with minors in Women’s Studies and Legal Studies. She earned a J.D. from Columbia Law School, where she graduated as a James Kent Scholar. At Columbia, she served as Notes Editor for the Journal of Law and Social Problems, Secretary of the Prison Health Initiative, and President of Christian Legal Society. Prior to joining CR, Valerie was a litigation associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell, where she worked on pro bono matters involving disability rights and criminal legal reform.

Samahria Alpern graduated from Brown University in 2021 with a degree in Urban Studies. During college, she interned with the Legal Aid Society Homeless Rights Project, New York State Youth Justice Institute, and Albany County Office of the Public Defender.

Nancy Andujar began her career in the non-profit sector in 2001 working for various organizations such as Children’s Aid and Family Services, Scholarship Fund for Inner-City Children at the Archdiocese of Newark, and Kean University Foundation. She joined Children’s Rights in 2021 during the height of the pandemic overseeing the Donor Database. She is responsible for data integrity at Children’s Rights and deeply values our donors and their privacy.

Joshua Arocho joined Children’s Rights as a Staff Attorney in June 2021. Prior to Children’s Rights, he was in-house counsel at Success Academy Charter Schools and a law clerk for Hon. Harry S. Mattice, Jr. in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. In addition to his litigation practice, Josh has extensive experience in special education law and K-12 education policy, having worked on these matters at the federal, state, and local level. He earned a J.D., magna cum laude, from the University of Michigan Law School in 2014 where he served as a Contributing Editor for the Michigan Law Review and as President of the Education Law and Policy Society. He earned a B.S. in Physics and an M.A. in Educational Policy and Leadership from the University of Michigan in 2011 and 2014 respectively.

In his spare time, Josh volunteers as a college and career mentor at Breakthrough New York and enjoys cooking, running, and Michigan football.

Sarah Beisner graduated from Grinnell College in 2022 with a degree in Psychology and Spanish. While at Grinnell College, she interned with the Center for Children’s Law and Policy and completed an independent research project on the experiences of dually-involved youth in the Iowa child welfare and youth justice systems.

Brayden Bell graduated from the University of Iowa in 2021 with a degree in Ethics & Public Policy and a minor in Global Health Studies. Brayden was vice president of the university’s pre-law organization, a member of the United Nations Association, and sang in a collegiate acapella group. After interning at Children’s Rights for a year, Brayden joined the team full-time as a paralegal to continue fighting for change.

Isabel Boyer graduated from the University of Michigan with a BA in Honors Sociology and a minor in Physics. At UofM, she volunteered with the Prison Creative Arts Project and wrote a thesis entitled “Gender Disparities in Juvenile Delinquency Court Hearing Outcomes.” She previously interned at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative and Orleans Public Defenders.

Katrina (Katie) Braun is a Staff Attorney at Children’s Rights. Prior to joining Children’s Rights in 2021, she clerked for Hon. Robert E. Bacharach on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, and served as a legal fellow at the ACLU of North Carolina where she represented migrant farmworkers fighting to exercise their civil rights, individuals subjected to an unlawful “gang injunction,” and a child in immigration court.

Katie earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School, cum laude, and an M.A. in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts, both in 2018, and served as Notes Editor on the Harvard Law Review. Before law school she worked as a paralegal in immigration law and earned her B.A. from Georgetown University, summa cum laude, in 2012. Outside of her work at Children’s Rights, Katie produces a fiction podcast and enjoys singing, running, and going on travel adventures.

Erin Brown serves as Children’s Rights’ Grants Manager. She is the owner of Brown Consulting, LLC, and provides non-profit development consulting services to organizations nationwide, with a special focus on foundation research, and grant writing and reporting. Previously, Erin was the Grants Manager for the San Francisco-based Homeless Prenatal Program, adding 23 new institutional funders over a two-year period. Prior to that, she was the Assistant Director of Saint Louise House, an Austin-based supportive housing community for women and their children, where she created and implemented annual fundraising plans to quadruple service capacity.  

Erin earned an MPA with a focus on non-profit management in 2007 from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, where she worked as a Research Assistant for the Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources, and contributed to a study of non-profit capacity-building resources in Central Texas. In 2003, Erin received a BA in history and criminal justice, cum laude, with an Honors College diploma from Indiana University. She has also completed post-graduate studies at the Franciscan School of Theology. Erin teaches classical ballet and is an avid (but slow) runner, with three full and six half-marathons under her belt.

Kristina Chenault is the Senior Communications Manager at Children’s Rights. Before joining Children’s Rights in 2020, she was the Communications Coordinator at the Population Health Collaborative (PHC) in Buffalo, NY. At PHC, she was responsible for leading education and awareness campaigns to improve social determinants of health, community engagement, and health equity issues facing diverse and historically under-resourced populations in the Western New York region. Kristina’s experience also includes brand development and management for nonprofits, primarily in health and human services.

Kristina earned a B.A. in Social Sciences, with a concentration in Health & Human Services and Community Mental Health in 2010 from the University at Buffalo. Outside of work, Kristina enjoys hikes with her partner and her dog, traveling with her family, reading, and exploring new cuisines.

Mary Grace Cobbs has been working as a development professional in the non-profit sector for 5 years. She joined the workforce after graduating from Temple University in 2017 with a B.A. in Psychology. Since joining Children’s Rights in 2019 she has evolved in her role as a Development Manager, helping facilitate fundraising efforts, donor relations, research, and event planning.

Stephen Dixon joined Children’s Rights in 2009. Since then, he has supported colleagues doing investigations and litigating cases in numerous states. Prior to this work, Stephen led a child advocacy office in Louisiana where he represented hundreds of children in both child welfare and delinquency proceedings. For his work in juvenile court, he was the recipient of the National Association of Counsel for Children Outstanding Legal Advocacy Award. Stephen co-founded the Juvenile Law Clinic at the LSU Law Center, where he was also an adjunct professor of law. He was lead counsel in In Re C.B., 708 So.2d 391 (1998), a landmark case on the right to treatment for youth in custody and the right to trial by jury for youth at risk of being placed in hard labor.

Stephen is the author of “The Worst of Both Worlds: Punishments and Procedures for Children in Louisiana,” 30 Southern Law Review 329 (2003). He earned his B.S. from Louisiana State University, and received his law degree from the LSU Law Center. He is also a graduate of Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyers College. Stephen is married to Dr. Debbie Dixon. They have two sons.

Leah Dunbar graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2022 with degrees in Criminology and Politics, Philosophy & Economics. She was part of the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal, the PPE Undergraduate Advisory Board, the Penn Band, and the Synchronized Swimming Team. During her summers, she worked as an intern for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania, the Public Interest Law Center, and the Chief Public Defender of Delaware County.

Lindsey Frye is a Senior Staff Attorney at Children’s Rights. Prior to joining Children’s Rights in December 2019, she was an associate at Moore & Van Allen, PLLC in North Carolina. At MVA, Lindsey maintained a varied litigation practice and handled large-scale regulatory investigations for banking clients. She represented incarcerated individuals in Section 1983 litigation against the state for constitutional harms that occurred while in state custody, and represented criminal defendants on a pro bono basis in federal RICO indictments. Prior to MVA, she clerked for Judge Frank Whitney in the Western District of North Carolina. Lindsey attended UNC School of Law, where she graduated in 2014 with honors.

While at Children’s Rights, Lindsey has represented children in foster care who are unnecessarily confined in institutions, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as children who do not receive special education services while incarcerated, in violation of the IDEA. She served on a trial team that successfully negotiated settlement for foster youth in Arizona who were not receiving appropriate health care. She also engages in monitoring work in metro-Atlanta, where she helps oversee the state’s compliance with the Kenny A. consent decree.

Daniele Gerard joined Children’s Rights in 2016. She received a B.A. from Johns Hopkins University and a J.D. from Columbia University School of Law, where she was Notes Editor on the Journal of Environmental Law, and received awards for exceptional interest and proficiency in advocacy and clinical offerings, and best brief in first year moot court. A former litigation associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Staff Attorney at North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, she was also a member of the development staff at Food & Water Watch for three years.

Since joining Children’s Rights, Daniele has been responsible for organizing a team preparing for trial, taken and defended depositions, drafted expert reports, monitored cases, run two advocacy projects, coordinated panels on mental health and child welfare, and established the Interfaith Coalition for Children’s Rights. Outside her work with CR, she currently serves as an officer of Three Parks Independent Democrats, and as a board member of the Voter Assistance Advisory Committee of the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

Aleshadye (El-shuh-dye) Getachew is a Staff Attorney at Children’s Rights. Before joining Children’s Rights, she litigated complex civil and criminal matters in private practice, including second chairing witness examinations and developing opening and closing statements for jury trials. Her diverse pro bono practice ranged from custody disputes in family court to representing incarcerated people who were challenging their convictions or sentences.

Aleshadye earned her J.D., cum laude, from Georgetown University Law Center. She received the Outstanding Student Advocate Award for her work on behalf of the unhoused community in partnership with So Others Might Eat, a leading nonprofit in Washington, DC. In addition, she held leadership and mentorship roles with the Black Law Students Association, interned for the D.C. Public Defender Service, and researched race and education law as a Research Assistant. She attended Cornell University for her undergraduate studies.

Meredith Giovanelli is a Policy Analyst for the Advocacy & Policy Department at Children’s Rights. Prior to joining Children’s Rights in 2021, they were a research assistant at GMHC, studying the implementation of behavioral health models to improve HIV health outcomes. Meredith’s previous experience also includes working in constituency services for the House of Representatives, specializing in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security casework.

In 2021, Meredith earned a Master of Public Health with a concentration in Health Policy Analysis from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. In 2019, they received their B.S. in Public Health with a concentration in Health Disparities and a minor in Evolutionary Anthropology from Rutgers University. Outside of work, Meredith likes to take walks with their dog in Prospect Park, cook meals for friends, and do crossword puzzles.

Anna Hackel graduated from New York University in 2022 with a BA in Global Liberal Studies and a double-minor in French, and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Studies. At NYU, she led Untold Herstories and the Alliance for Environmental and Social Justice, and wrote a senior thesis entitled “Due Process Denied: The U.S. Immigration System and Unaccompanied Minors.” Before joining CR, Anna worked with UNICEF, the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office, and the USC Shoah Foundation.

Bianca Herlitz-Ferguson is a Staff Attorney at Children’s Rights. Before joining Children’s Rights in 2022, Bianca was a Singer Public Service Fellow at the Center for Children’s Advocacy in Connecticut. Her fellowship project focused on expanding access to legal services for immigrant youth and young adults facing discharge from extended foster care through individual representation, legal-rights training, and systemic advocacy.

Bianca received her B.A. in 2015 from Cornell University. She received her J.D. in 2021 from Yale Law School, where she served as an Executive Editor on the Yale Law Journal, co-founded the Youth Justice Project, and participated in both the Appellate Litigation Project and the Educational Opportunity & Juvenile Justice Clinic. She interned with the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section; Youth Law Australia; and the Vermont Office of the Defender General, Juvenile Division as a Bergstrom Child Welfare Summer Fellow. Before law school, Bianca was a Paralegal at Children’s Rights and volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children in foster care.

Carly Hite joined Children’s Rights in 2022. Previously, she was a Skadden Fellow in her hometown of Buffalo, NY, where she worked to reduce the racially disproportionate use of school suspensions. In that role, she helped hundreds of children and families challenge suspensions; seek appropriate special education services; and access supports for students experiencing homelessness, involved in the family regulation system, and/or with limited English proficiency. Before her fellowship, she clerked with the Hon. Richard C. Wesley of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and the Hon. Lawrence J. Vilardo of the United States District Court for the Western District of New York.

Carly received her B.A. in Economics and German Studies from Pomona College in 2012 and her J.D. from Stanford Law School in 2018. Between college and law school, she served as a Fulbright Fellow in Cologne, Germany, and taught high school math in NYC. In her spare time, Carly enjoys skiing, travelling, and rooting for the Bills.

 

Madeleine M. Kinney joined Children’s Rights in 2019. Previously, she was a litigation associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, where she represented clients in complex commercial disputes, and maintained an active and diverse pro bono practice. Her pro bono experiences include representing clients in immigration matters and before city and state agencies, including the NYC D.O.E. and the NY D.O.L. Madeleine externed in the Legal Aid Society’s New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, and served as a member of Legal Services NYC’s Pro Bono Associate Advisory Board. In 2017, she was a recipient of the Legal Aid Society’s Pro Bono Publico Award.

Ms. Kinney earned her B.A. degree in 2010 from Colgate University, magna cum laude, and her J.D. from George Washington University Law School in 2014, with honors.  During law school, Ms. Kinney served as a legal intern at the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. Madeleine is co-author of Fostering Inequity, a 2020 report on how COVID-19 amplifies risks for LGBTQ+ youth in care, and Families over Facilities, a 2021 call to action to end the unnecessary institutionalization of children in child welfare systems.

Makena Mugambi is an Advocacy & Policy Fellow at Children’s Rights. Prior to joining the Advocacy & Policy Department, she worked for CR as a paralegal from 2020 to 2022. Makena graduated from New York University in 2020 magna cum laude with a B.A. in Politics and Environmental Studies and a minor in Spanish.

While at NYU, Makena supported Leave it Better Foundation’s environmental and mental health educational programming for youth in NYC, advocated for environmental protections for Black and Brown communities in NYC with The Black Institute, and helped evaluate programs designed to support youth in the juvenile legal system with NYU’s R.I.S.E. Lab. She is passionate about dismantling systems that perpetuate racial injustice and building strong, well-resourced communities.

Stephanie Persson is a Staff Attorney at Children’s Rights. Stephanie joined Children’s Rights in 2016, and has worked on multiple class action cases on behalf of children and youth. Her work has included advocating for improved state child welfare systems, eliminating harmful solitary confinement in juvenile facilities, providing adequate mental health care to children, and ensuring equitable support for kinship families seeking to foster relative children. Prior to joining Children’s Rights, she worked in Hong Kong, where she advocated for improvements in the Hong Kong child welfare system and supervised law students in clinical human rights courses.

Stephanie received her B.A. from the University of Washington and her J.D from Columbia Law School. While at Columbia, she was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and received the Edwin Parker Prize and a Human Rights Institute Leadership Commendation.

Amanda Sabia is a Financial Analyst. Prior to joining Children’s Rights in 2019 she was an Industry Analyst at Gartner. At Gartner she produced fact-based research documents, including forecasts and strategic recommendations for product managers in the consumer device and services industries. Amanda’s corporate financial background began at Verizon. There she was part of the CFO’s team providing actual versus budget analysis, writing excerpts for management discussion and analysis documents, recommending cost reduction strategies, and leading the finance team in merger integration.

Amanda earned her MBA with a concentration in Financial Management from Pace University.  Amanda received her BA in Music Education from The College of New Jersey. She taught instrumental music to children with special needs. When not working, Amanda likes to swim, run (more like a fast walk), take care of her granddaughter and spend time with friends and family.

Kathleen (Katie) Simon joined Children’s Rights in 2021. Previously, she clerked for the Honorable Stefan R. Underhill of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, and was a Litigation Associate at Covington & Burling LLP. 

Katie received her B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 2014 and her J.D. from Columbia Law School in 2018. At Columbia, she was a James Kent Scholar, Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, and Managing Editor for the Columbia Human Rights Law Review.  While in law school, she participated in the Challenging the Consequences of Mass Incarceration Clinic and interned for the Brooklyn Defender Services, Family Defense Practice.  Katie’s student note, “Catalyzing the Separation of Black Families: A Critique of Foster Care Placements Without Prior Judicial Review,” won the E. Allan Farnsworth Note Writing Competition in 2017 and was published in the Columbia Journal of Law & Social Problems.

Rejlond Sinani is a Staff Accountant at Children’s Rights. Before joining Children’s Rights in 2020, he worked as an auditor for the Albanian Supreme Auditing Institution (ALSAI), where he provided audit programs for financial and performance audits by examining all the information and identifying areas of non-compliance. Rejlond got his start in the accounting industry after he finished his Bachelor’s degree in 2014 working as a staff accountant for a retail firm for three years where he managed receivable and payable accounts and provided daily reports to senior accountants.

Rejlond earned his Bachelor’s degree in Finance and Accounting from the University of Tirana in Albania, and holds a Master’s degree in Executive Management with the thesis topic “European Union: Development Opportunity or a Risk for Albanian Businesses.” In his spare time, Rejlond enjoys many outdoor activities including biking, hiking, and tennis.

Divya Subrahmanyam joined Children’s Rights in 2021 after clerking at the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Before clerking, she was a senior staff attorney in the consumer law unit of CAMBA Legal Services, Inc., defending low-income consumers against predatory debt collection practices.

Divya received a B.A. in Linguistics from Yale College in 2011 and a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2015. At HLS, she served as Articles Editor for the Journal of Law and Gender and participated in the Child Advocacy Clinic. Between college and law school, she worked at a domestic violence shelter in Los Angeles and interned with the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Nicole Taykhman joined Children’s Rights as a Staff Attorney in 2020. Previously, she was a litigation associate at Jenner & Block LLP in New York, where she represented clients in complex commercial disputes and investigations. She also maintained a significant pro bono practice, including direct service work and impact litigation spanning the fields of reproductive rights, immigration, disability rights, and veterans’ rights. Before that, she clerked for the Hon. Michael P. Shea of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.

Nicole earned a JD from Columbia Law School in 2016. At Columbia, she was a James Kent Scholar and received the Pauline Berman Heller Prize for academic achievement in the service of gender equality in law and the Myra Bradwell Award for best student note on the topic of women and the law. She served as a Submissions Editor for the Columbia Journal of Gender of Law and participated in the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, in which she represented refugee mothers and children in immigration and family court proceedings.

Eric Thompson joined Children’s Rights in 1998. He received his A.B., cum laude, from Harvard College and his J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law. He also clerked for the Hon. William G. Young of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Prior to joining the staff at Children’s Rights, Eric prosecuted child protective custody and termination of parental rights cases as Assistant Regional Counsel for the Massachusetts Department of Social Services in Boston.

An experienced litigator, Eric has successfully led Children’s Rights’ litigation efforts in Milwaukee, Mississippi, and New Jersey. He obtained judicial recognition of a federal legal right to timely adoption filings for foster children under the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, and a state legal right to basic protections and services for foster children under the New Jersey Child Placement Bill of Rights. He has testified before Congress on child welfare reform efforts in the District of Columbia, spoken across the country about the legal rights of children, is published on the subject, and has served as a Harvard Law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow. When not supporting Children’s Rights litigation in his current Of Counsel role, Eric leads an academic mentoring and summer camp organization for low-income Boston students and is a weekend tennis warrior.

Emmy Vargas began at Children’s Rights as a paralegal intern while a student at LaGuardia Community College. In March 1988 she joined Children’s Rights’ staff as a legal assistant and became senior administrative assistant in 2005. In 2019, Emmy stepped into the Operations Manager role, supporting the smooth functioning of the organization in all regards, including acting as liaison with building staff to maintain the office space, IT, vendor and supply management, and miscellaneous operational needs. Emmy holds a Bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Alexandria Ware is a child welfare expert and dedicated advocate for young people and their families with experience working in community-based services, state systems, and on national policy.

Alexandria is currently The Arthur Gochman Child and Family Advocacy Fellow. Before joining Children’s Rights, she was at K-State Research and Extension (KSRE) as a 4H Youth Development Agent. Before joining KSRE, she was at Think of Us, Virtual Support Services, as their Program Manager, where she was the Research Coordinator for the Away from Home Report and vital to creating the foundation for the Virtual Support Services Department.

Most recently, she has been the co-founder and co-host of Diaries of a Black Girl in Foster Care podcast that highlights the intersectionality and experiences of black girls in foster care. She also serves as a national federal consultant, Support Coach, and trainer for National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) Reviewers through JBS International Inc.

Alexandria is also the founder of Culture Creations Inc. supports Black and Brown young adults in and from foster care (ages 16-21) with returning to indigenous modes of healing, community, and transformation, ensuring they leave foster care with the support in place to live holistically healthy lives.

Shira Wisotsky joined Children’s Rights as a Staff Attorney in 2022. Previously, she was a legal fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, where she conducted litigation and advocacy to protect and advance a range of civil rights, including immigrants’ rights, the rights to free speech and protest, and the rights of people in detention. Before working with the ACLU-NJ, she clerked for the Supreme Court of New Jersey and the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, and was a foreign law clerk at the Supreme Court of Israel.

Shira received her bachelor’s degree from Barnard College, Columbia University, and her law degree, with honors, from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. While in law school, Shira was a member of the year-long Civil Rights Clinic, an editor for the Cardozo Law Review, and a fellow for the Public Service Scholar program. Before law school, she worked as a case-handling paralegal at the Legal Aid Society in New York City. Outside of her work at Children’s Rights, Shira enjoys nature photography, mentoring students interested in public service careers, and volunteering to manage the social media for her local community garden.

With a workforce of about 40, Children’s Rights is a small group making a big impact on U.S. child welfare. We have won landmark legal victories and improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. Our talented attorneys and staff have a reputation for being skilled strategists, tenacious advocates and, most of all, effective reformers.

Staff

  • Valerie Achille, staff attorney
  • Samahria Alpern, paralegal
  • Nancy Andujar, database manager and development associate
  • Josh Arocho, staff attorney
  • Samantha Bartosz, deputy litigation director
  • Brayden Bell, paralegal
  • Sarah Beisner, paralegal
  • Isabel Boyer, paralegal
  • Katrina Braun, staff attorney
  • Erin Brown, grants manager
  • Kristina Chenault, digital marketing and communications manager
  • Mary Grace Cobbs, development manager
  • Leah Dunbar, paralegal
  • Aaron Finch, lead counsel
  • Harry Frischerchief counsel
  • Lindsey Frye, senior staff attorney
  • Daniele Gerard, senior staff attorney
  • Aleshadye Getachew, staff attorney
  • Meredith Giovanelli, policy analyst
  • Claire Glasspiegel, senior staff attorney
  • Anna Hackel, paralegal
  • Bianca Herlitz-Ferguson, staff attorney
  • Camilla Jenkins, director of communications
  • Madeleine M. Kinney, senior staff attorney
  • Darlene Larsen, chief development officer
  • Ira Lustbader, chief program officer
  • Marjorie A. McAndrews, chief financial officer
  • Makena Mugambi, advocacy & policy fellow 
  • Marissa Nardi, lead counsel
  • Stephanie Persson, senior staff attorney
  • Susan Reeves, director of talent and operations
  • Crystal Rhoney, executive & program assistant
  • Sandy Santana, executive director
  • Kathleen Simon, staff attorney
  • Rejland Sinani, staff accountant
  • Nicole Taykhman, senior staff attorney
  • Emmy Vargas, operations manager
  • Leecia Welch, deputy litigation director
  • Shereen A. White, director of advocacy & policy
  • Shira Wisotsky, staff attorney

Of Counsel

  • Stephen Dixon
  • Eric Thompson