Children's Defense Fund

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For other uses of "CDF", see CDF (disambiguation).
Children's Defense Fund
Founded 1973
Founder Marian Wright Edelman
Key people
Marian Wright Edelman, President
Slogan Leading our nation since 1973 to ensure a level playing field for all children

The Children's Defense Fund is an American child advocacy and research group, founded in 1973 by Marian Wright Edelman. Its motto Leave No Child Behind reflects its mission to advocate on behalf of children. The organization is supported by private donations.


Founded in 1973, The Children's Defense Fund (CDF) is a non-profit advocacy organization that works to ensure a level playing field for all children. CDF works with individuals, communities and policy makers to enact, fund and implement public policy and promote successful programs that lift children out of poverty, protect them from abuse and neglect, ensure access to health care and quality education, and provide a moral and spiritual foundation to help them succeed with the support of caring adults and communities. The Children's Defense Fund is supported by foundation and corporate grants and individual donations and does not take government funds.

The Children's Defense Fund believes that every step taken to improve the lives of children improves the lives of all of us. CDF provides a strong, effective voice for all the children of America who cannot vote, lobby, or speak for themselves and also facilitates youth leadership programs designed to attract, equip and mobilize the next generation of youth as child advocates

The principal public policy initiative is summarized by CDF's advocacy of the "Dodd-Miller Act to Leave No Child Behind (S. 448/H.R. 936)" bill, introduced in Congress in 2001. This differs only slightly from the No Child Left Behind Act. (George W. Bush used this phrase, trademarked by the CDF, [1] in his Presidential campaign despite objections from CDF.)

The CDF bill's provisions would, according to the organization [1]:

  • prepare every child for school through full funding of quality childcare, Head Start and Early Head Start, and new investments in universal preschool education programs
  • lift every child from poverty by 2010
  • ensure that every child and parent has health insurance as a first step toward universal coverage
  • end child hunger through the expansion of food programs, living wages, tax credits, and family supports
  • make sure every child can read by fourth grade and can graduate from high school able to succeed at work and in life
  • provide every child safe, quality after-school and summer programs to learn, serve, work, and stay out of trouble
  • ensure every child decent affordable housing
  • protect all children from neglect, abuse, and other violence and ensure them the care they need
  • ensure families leaving welfare the supports required to be successful in the workplace, including healthcare, childcare, education, and training


CDF grew out of the Civil Rights Movement under the leadership of Marian Wright Edelman who remains its President. CDF traces its heritage to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his Poor People’s Campaign that fought for social and economic justice for all in the 1960s.

Mrs. Edelman—a graduate of Spelman College and Yale Law School—witnessed abject poverty first-hand in the Mississippi Delta and worked with Dr. King and Senator Robert Kennedy in the 1960s to help the millions of poor people in America. Mrs. Edelman then moved to Washington, D.C., and founded CDF to continue Dr. King’s call for justice for the poor and to ensure a level playing field for all children in America.

CDF is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has offices in several states around the country: California, Minnesota, New York, Louisiana, Ohio, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. CDF programs operate in 24 states and the National Outreach staff also works on the ground and with partners in all 50 states.

Since its founding, CDF has helped pass several critical pieces of legislation, like the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act and programs involving issues of disabled children, early childhood education, health care and child welfare; ran several public awareness campaigns including the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign and the gun violence prevention campaign. CDF has also published a number of reports, including the State of America’s Children, educating the public on the issues facing children.

Hillary Rodham Clinton[edit]

Hillary Rodham Clinton has a long established relationship with Marian Wright Edelman and CDF. In the early 1970s, she and others working for CDF would go door to door in Bedford, Massachusetts and uncover the ugly truths behind a statistic regarding school-aged children. Rodham (Rodham would not marry Bill Clinton until October 11, 1975) found that many children were not in school due a wide range of domestic challenges the most problematic being mental, emotional, and physical handicaps, The results of her survey were revised by the staff at CDF and submitted to Congress. Two years later in 1975, Congress would pass the Education For All Handicapped Children Act. This was a major milestone for American children and Rodham's political career. This work would set a tone for the advocate she would become and the work she would complete on behalf of American families as First Lady of the United States from 1993-2001.[1]

Youth Leadership[edit]

CDF works to ensure that today's children become healthy and productive adults that grow into the next generation of leaders. CDF has several programs that help children succeed in school, celebrate youth who have overcome personal obstacles, and train young adults to become child advocates.

CDF's Black Community Crusade for Children (BCCC)[2] led to the creation of the CDF Freedom Schools program [3] in 1995, offering children enrichment through a reading curriculum that seeks to foster a love of learning and to empower children to make a difference in their families, communities and the nation. In the summer of 2007, CDF Freedom Schools sponsor partners served over 8,300 children in 61 cities and 25 states (and D.C.), including over 1,750 children in the Gulf Coast Region (AL,LA,MS,TX). Since 1995, over 64,000 children and families have been reached through the CDF Freedom Schools program experience.

The Children's Defense Fund Beat the Odds program [4] each year provides students around the country with partial college scholarships. Founded in 1990, the Beat the Odds program has awarded hundreds of scholarships to high school students who have overcome adversity in their lives and gone on to achieve academic excellence and give back to their communities.

The Children's Defense Fund Youth Advocacy Leadership Training (YALT)[5] program helps young people who are committed to social justice and the welfare of all children develop into the next generation of leaders. Each year, the YALT program provides hundreds of young adults an opportunity to connect with other young leaders, community organizers and child advocates from around the country to learn new advocacy skills, models and strategies that can be implemented in their communities back home and on their college campuses.

Health care[edit]

CDF works to ensure access to affordable, seamless, comprehensive health and mental health coverage and services for all children and pregnant mothers. In 2007, CDF mobilized more than 1,200 national, state and local organizations—representing over 60 million people—to support a campaign to ensure health coverage for all children. This effort led to child advocates sending tens of thousands of emails to their Members of Congress asking them to address the child health coverage crisis immediately.

End Child Poverty[edit]

CDF works with individuals, communities and policymakers to enact, fund and implement legislation that helps lift children and their families out of poverty. CDF also works with other organizations to help families identify tax credits and federal and state government benefits for which they’re eligible and to provide them with free tax preparation assistance, enabling them to keep more of their hard-earned money and reduce poverty. In 2006, CDF and its partners helped families save approximately $11.6 million in tax preparation fees alone and helped get almost $170 million back into the pockets of working families.

Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign[edit]

CDF's Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign is a national call to action to stop the funneling of tens of thousands of youth, predominantly male minorities, down life paths that often lead to arrest, conviction, incarceration and, in some cases, death. The campaign was launched in 2007 at a two-day summit in Washington, D.C., at which we released our America's Cradle to Prison Pipeline report. Since then Texas, California and others have or are planning follow-up state level activities to address this crisis.

CDF National Conference[edit]

In 2012, The Children’s Defense Fund held their first national conference in 10 years. The conference gathered 3,000 leading researchers, educators, policymakers, practitioners, faith leaders, and advocates including 1,500 young adult leaders from July 22 - July 25 in Cincinnati, Ohio. It featured plenary sessions and workshops that focused on the latest research and best practices, community building models, and community and youth empowerment strategies that benefit children and prioritize their future. Session topics included economic inequality, poverty, juvenile justice, education, health and nutrition, the budget, family and community empowerment, social media and advocacy, and more. Speakers included Marian Wright Edelman, president of CDF, Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of PolicyLink, and Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone.

Idol Gives Back[edit]

In 2008, FOX Television Network selected CDF to be featured on and benefit from the "Idol Gives Back" fundraising event. CDF Board Member Reese Witherspoon highlighted CDF's work for children during the April 9, 2008 broadcast.

Key people[edit]

Academy Award Winning actress, Reese Witherspoon serves on the Board of Directors at CDF. She first learned about CDF while reading a book by its President Marian Wright Edelman entitled, The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours, during a road trip from Nashville to Stanford University. She later reread the book, decided she wanted to be part of CDF's work and called CDF to get involved. Since then Ms. Witherspoon has regularly participated in fundraising events and contributed financially, including donating all of the proceeds from sales of the Legally Blonde Barbie Dolls to CDF. Every year she has met with each of the Beat the Odds scholarship winners in California. Ms. Witherspoon has served on CDF's Board since 2006 and was instrumental in organizing a CDF-sponsored visit to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to reach out to the children traumatized by the storm and help them receive the physical and mental support needed to heal. She also helped launch the first of 13 New Orleans CDF Freedom Schools sites and personally funded two.

Susie Flynn Campaign[edit]

The CDF sponsored a nine-year-old girl for the 2008 Presidential Election, on the platform that nine-million American children lack Health Insurance.[2] Her message, featured in various blogs and articles, is that people need to focus on this issue. The CDF sponsors Susie's message to pass a current bill in the United States House of Representatives that would provide such Health Insurance coverage to the kids who lack it, and will even cover pregnant woman for a while after giving birth.[3]

Gun control[edit]

The CDF wrote an amicus brief in the District of Columbia v. Heller case, urging the US Supreme Court to uphold the District of Columbia's handgun ban.[4]

CDF has been a strong advocate for more than twenty years for common sense gun safety legislation to ensure the safety of children.[5] CDF's annual report, Protect Children Not Guns, details the toll of gun violence on children and teens in communities across the country.


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