Founder & CEO

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Founder and CEO of CHILD USA, www.childusa.org, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit academic think tank dedicated to interdisciplinary, evidence-based research to improve laws and public policy to end child abuse and neglect.   She is also the Fels Institute of Government Professor of Practice and a Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania.  Before moving to Penn, Professor Hamilton held the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.

Prof. Hamilton is the leading expert on clergy sex abuse and child sex abuse statutes of limitation (“SOL”).    She has been invited to testify and advise legislators in every state where significant SOL reform has occurred.  She is the author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge University Press), which advocates for the elimination of child sex abuse statutes of limitations.  She has filed countless pro bono amicus briefs for the protection of children at the United States Supreme Court and the state supreme courts.  She is the co-author of Children and the Law (Carolina Academic Press 2017).

Hamilton is a leading and influential critic of extreme religious liberty and the author of God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty (Cambridge University Press), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.  Hamilton successfully challenged the constitutionality of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) at the Supreme Court in Boerne v. Flores (1997), and defeated the RFRA claim brought by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee against hundreds of child sex abuse survivors in Committee of Unsecured Creditors v. Listecki (7th Cir. 2015).  She has represented numerous cities, neighborhoods, and individuals dealing with church-state issues as well as claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”).

Hamilton has been honored with the 2019 Distinguished Daughters Award by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf; the 2018 Louis H. Pollak Award for Public Service by the University of Pennsylvania Law School; the 2015 Annual Religious Liberty Award, American Humanist Association; the 2014 Freethought Heroine Award; the 2016 Voice Today, Voice of Gratitude Award; the National Crime Victim Bar Association’s Frank Carrington Champion of Civil Justice Award, 2012; the E. Nathaniel Gates Award for outstanding public advocacy and scholarship, 2008; and selected as a Pennsylvania Woman of the Year Award, 2012, among other awards and honors.   She is also frequently quoted in the national media on child sex abuse, statute of limitations issues and constitutional, RFRA, RLUIPA, and First Amendment issues.

Hamilton clerked for United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Judge Edward R. Becker of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  Professor Hamilton is a graduate of Vanderbilt University, B.A., summa cum laude; Pennsylvania State University, M.A. (English, fiction writing, High Honors); M.A. (Philosophy); and the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, J.D., magna cum laude, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.   She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Order of the Coif.

Chief Financial Officer

James Plappert joins CHILD USA as Chief Financial Officer after an extensive career in the corporate business arena.  After graduating from Carnegie-Mellon University with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and earning an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh, Jim had a career in the corporate world working for Westinghouse Electric, Conversion Systems, and Exxon Corporation, before founding and managing an executive recruiting and consulting firm. He brings the abundance of business experience gained in those positions to CHILD USA.

James also established a consulting business for high school student-athletes who wanted to pursue their athletic careers at the collegiate level and published two books to aid those athletes, Interviewing with College Coaches and So, You Want to be a College Athlete. As the father of four children, two of whom were elite college athletes, Jim is particularly concerned about the abuse and neglect of athletes of all ages and the programs that will find solutions to end abuse in athletics.

Chief Operating Officer

Jillian Ruck joins CHILD USA as the Chief Operating Officer from her previous career in education. As a former high school teacher with a degree from Villanova University in History and Education, she has taught in various places around the country including Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, and Washington, DC. Jillian has taught subjects from Government to AP World History to students ranging from 8th to 12th grade. Her teaching career included teaching in both public and charter schools to students all across the socio-economic spectrum. Due to her experience, she is acutely aware of the issues surrounding the education system in the United States as well as the increased vulnerabilities of students located in already marginalized communities. 
Jillian has been a passionate advocate for social justice through education for children and has a deeply held belief that all children deserve a high quality education no matter the circumstances they are born into. These are the beliefs that she bring to CHILD USA where she will continue her mission in life to work to educate and protect children, especially those who are marginalized.

Development Director

Kelsey Bryner joins CHILD USA as the Development Director. She looks forward to helping our organization grow as we continue to create change and impact policy ensuring that civil rights for children are protected. 

Social Science Director

AJ Ortiz joins CHILD USA after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Science in Social Policy program. He graduated from Millersville University in 2014 with a degree in social work and went on to work in educational settings and complete a year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA.

Before coming to Penn, AJ worked as a therapeutic foster parent recruiter and conducted trainings on complex trauma, human trafficking prevention, and specialized foster care. During graduate school, he co-authored a paper analyzing evidence for programs serving youth aging out of foster care and studied implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act. AJ’s primary focus is preventing institutional child abuse, particularly in residential facilities. He is ultimately interested in using mixed-methods social science research to inform child protection policies nationwide.

 Legal Director

Jessica Schidlow joins CHILD USA with an extensive background in child welfare. Jessica holds a Master’s degree in Professional Clinical and Counseling Psychology and worked as an out-patient child and family-based therapist before pursing her legal education. After law school, Jessica joined the Montgomery County Public Defender’s Office in their Child Advocacy Unit where she represented hundreds of at-risk and dependent youth in their Juvenile and Orphan’s Court proceedings. Jessica is committed to advancing the rights of children and improving the outcomes for court-involved youth by ensuring practices that are trauma-informed and congruent with legal, medical, and social-science research.

Jessica earned her B.A. in Psychology from Temple University, Honors Program. She earned her M.A. in Professional Clinical and Counseling Psychology from LaSalle University, graduating with distinction. Jessica earned her J.D. from of Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law, 2-year accelerated program, where she served as a research assistant and president of the Health Law Society. Jessica is a National Board-Certified Counselor and member of the National Association of Counsel for Children. She also serves on the Children and the Law Committee for the Montgomery County Bar Association and the Children’s Rights Legislative Subcommittee for the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Staff Attorney for Global Projects

Devyne Byrd joins CHILD USA as the Staff Attorney for Global Projects with prior experience working with international legal organizations. Previously, Devyne was a Legal Fellow at the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, where she practiced family, landlord-tenant, and employment law.
Devyne graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law where she participated in the International Human Rights Clinic working on improving air quality in Bogota, Colombia. She also has experience in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where she partnered with the Women’s Legal Aid Clinic to assist women entering marriages with retaining ownership of their premarital property.
Prior to law school, she received her B.A. in History from Houston Christian University. While enrolled, she served as President of the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society and volunteered with the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.

Digital Media Manager

Stephanie Gonzalez joins CHILD USA as Digital Media Manager, who brings creativity and ingenuity to everything she does. As a digital storyteller with a decade of experience in social media, brand development, and marketing strategy, she is also a forward-thinking self-starter who continually challenges herself to learn something new. Stephanie considers herself a creative problem solver who enjoys utilizing her communication, hands-on work, and problem-solving skills. She is also a lover of design, branding, and graphic/visual arts, which all come together to form her work. Having attended The University of the Arts and graduated with a Multimedia degree, her background in the arts further fuels her creativity and passion for making intuitive decisions quickly, with the ability to create something from nothing.

Staff Attorney

Alice Nasar Hanan joined CHILD USA in February 2019. She is a staff attorney and contributes to the legal research, analysis and development of our Statute of Limitations Reform Initiative. She is a former student of Marci Hamilton from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. At Cardozo, she was the recipient of the Dean’s Merit Scholarship, worked as an editor of the Cardozo Law Review, was a legal writing teacher’s assistant and graduated with honors. She received her B.A. in Criminal Justice from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. She is also a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Order of the Coif. Alice began her legal career in New York City at Kasowtiz, Benson, Torres, and Friedman LLP, as a litigation attorney with a focus on complex commercial litigation and white collar criminal defense. Next, she moved to New Jersey with her family and joined a local litigation firm. Alice brings to CHILD USA both her legal expertise and passion for respecting the dignity and legal rights of all children.


Event Planner & Executive Assistant to CEO

MaryClare joins CHILD USA having enjoyed a successful career as a preschool teacher, volunteer, and active member of various local and national nonprofit organizations. Her passion for the well being of every child is what inspired her to leave the classroom to join CHILD USA. MaryClare will draw on her past experiences and wide-ranging skills as liaison to members of the CHILD USA team as well as organization ambassador. “Children are amazing. They all develop using the same principles. It is our job to make sure they feel loved, nurtured, and valued.”

MaryClare received her BFA from West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia. She continued her education at The Art Institute of Philadelphia where she received a Continuing Education Certificate. MaryClare continues her education by completing courses in various areas of personal and professional interest.



Staff Attorney

Carina Nixon joins CHILD USA as a Staff Attorney. Prior to CHILD USA, Carina worked as an Attorney-Advisor for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Disaster Assistance where she aided small business owners in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Previously, she worked as an Attorney-Advisor in the General Counsel’s Office of the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington, D.C.


Carina graduated from Pepperdine School of Law, where she served as a Note and Comment Editor for the Pepperdine Law Review. As a staffer for the Law Review, Carina wrote an article exploring and arguing against the constitutionality of juvenile solitary confinement in the U.S. prison system. Her article was chosen for publication in Pepperdine’s Law Review and earned Pepperdine Law’s Sorenson Award for best student article. Carina additionally acted as President of Pepperdine’s International Commercial Arbitration Moot Court Team and was a member of the Moot Court team. Prior to law school, Carina graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.A. in International Studies and a B.A. in Spanish Language. As a mother herself, she is passionate about ensuring every child is afforded the legal protections and human rights they deserve.

 Social Work Intern

Karim Sharif joins CHILD USA amidst a dual masters in Social Work and Social Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has studied education policy, school funding design, and community empowerment while working in schools and with nonprofits. He received his English Bachelors with thesis distinction from Occidental College in 2018 and went on to work in post-production audio and as a recording engineer, eventually moving over to social policy for its alignment with what he values most: working toward a brighter future. His interest in CHILD USA’s work centers around his belief that equity can only come from fighting for it in every facet of society.



Research & Development Intern

Sarah Bousquet joins CHILD USA as a Research and Development intern. She is a graduate student studying social work and social policy at the University of Pennsylvania. Sarah is passionate about social justice and advocacy, hoping to inform policy change and connecting funders with under researched areas, such as violence against LGBTQ+ youth. She is also interested in research analysis regarding the relationship between sexual violence and the juvenile justice system. She is excited to learn from the team at CHILD USA and support their mission of protecting kids and preventing abuse.


University of Pennsylvania: Fox Fellow

Krishna Chandrasekhara is a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. He is studying Health and Societies, with a concentration in Health Policy & Law. His interest in children’s issues began last summer while interning for a Texas state court specializing in child sex abuse cases. He was a Fox Fellow for CHILD USA this past spring, and worked on an educational neglect report. He looks forward to continue working with CHILD USA this summer.


Communictions Intern

Megan Connelly is a rising senior at Saint Joseph’s University, majoring in Communications with a Graphic Design minor, from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Megan has spent the last two years working with the Beautiful Social Research Collaborative, an upper level communications course that works with local Philadelphia non-profit organizations, where she has learned more about the world around us and the type of work she wants to pursue. Through this experience, and the projects it has provided, she is eager to continue learning and sharing that knowledge with others.


Legal Intern

Caroline Dorsey is a rising 2L at Columbia Law School. She grew up in sunny Sterling, VA and graduated from the University of Virginia in 2019, with a B.A. in Public Policy & Leadership. Caroline spent the next two years as a paralegal in the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, where she had the opportunity to learn from a range of litigation experiences. She is hoping to return to the public service sector after law school and work in child advocacy efforts. Outside of the world of law school, you can find Caroline rewatching old SNL sketches or working on her novice tennis skills. Caroline is thrilled for this opportunity to work with CHILD USA this summer!


Universtiy of Pennsylvania: Fox Fellow

Samara Himmelfarb is a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. She grew up in Washington, DC, where she volunteered with vulnerable youth and taught tennis at a local elementary school. At Penn, she is a music writer for 34th St Magazine and solidified her passion for child advocacy as a board member and middle school debate coach for Penn For Youth Debate. Samara plans to major in English and History, with hopes of eventually attending law school. She is very excited to join the CHILD USA team this summer!


Communications Intern

Catherine (Catie) Mannato joins CHILD USA as a Communications Intern for the summer from Montgomery County. She is a rising junior at Elon University in North Carolina and is working toward achieving Bachelor of Arts degrees in Journalism and Media Analytics. At school, Catie serves as the Travel Editor for The Edge Magazine where she writes and edits for the magazine’s print and online publications. She also mentors students at school as a Peer Educator for Elon 101, a class that focuses on the first-year transition into the college experience. Catie has always been passionate about social justice projects and helping others, so she looks forward to her time at CHILD USA to support their mission in the protection of children and abuse prevention through communications work.


Research & Development Intern

Ryann Merseth joins CHILD USA for the summer after finishing her sophomore year at New York University. She is currently undecided for her major but heavily interested in psychology and food studies. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, writing, and playing with her two dogs. She is excited to be interning at CHILD USA and learning more about conducting research in the social science field.


Research & Development Intern

Noah Morando is interning at CHILD USA during Summer 2022 in a Research and Development position. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biobehavioral Health with The Pennsylvania State University he is continuing on to earn his MPH at the Hershey campus in the 2022-2023 academic school year. Noah also has experience with hands on medicine through earning his EMT certification and hopes to apply these experiences to a public health position in the future. 


Legal Intern

Halena is entering her second year at Harvard Law School. She graduated from UCLA’s class of 2018 with a B.A. in Political Science and continued to work in Los Angeles as a legal assistant to attorneys specializing in business disputes, fine arts, and entertainment. As a result of being born and raised in a hometown populated by a large number of Vietnamese immigrants, Halena has developed a passion for community service that is centered on the academic and professional mentorship of marginalized students. She is excited to help CHILD USA’s advocacy on behalf of all children and is happy to have a chance to work for children again after her past few years of experience as a summer camp counselor. Outside of work, she’s constantly planning road trips, drawing, and enjoying live music.


University of Pennsylvania: Fox Fellow

Anna Pugsley Koh joins CHILD USA as a Fox Fellow. She was born and raised in West Philadelphia and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in May 2021 with a double major in Political Science and Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations. She has a background in historical and archival research as well as political advocacy and organizing. Her longtime areas of focus have been public education and gentrification, and is interested in how public institutions can best serve and protect children.



University of Pennsylvania: Fox Fellow

Deika Albert is a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania (C’22) from Newton, Mass and is excited to join CHILD USA as a Fox Fellow this summer. She is a double major in Economics and Political Science at Penn, where she is also involved on the Division I Fencing Team, a member of a student government branch, and part of MUSE Social Impact Consulting club. Deika’s previous internship at a Boston-based legal aid clinic inspired her passion for public interest law and she hopes to continue her legal advocacy work at CHILD USA.


University of Pennsylvania: Social Science Fellow

Shaindy joins CHILD USA as a Social Science Fellow. She is passionate about parental and children’s rights, and she is presently pursuing both JD and MSW degrees. She hopes to practice family law using a trauma-informed approach, and she is committed to sharing her perspectives throughout the legal arena. She is excited to be conducting research focusing on systemic improvements to judicial training and foster care. She is a former CASA, and she looks forward to continuing her advocacy work alongside the team at CHILD USA this summer.


Villanova University: Research & Development Intern

McKenna Halverson joins CHILD USA as a Research and Development intern. She recently graduated from Villanova University with her M.S. in Experimental Psychology. She received her B.S. in Psychology from the University of South Dakota in 2019. This fall, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Delaware. McKenna is interested in conducting research focused on improving public policies for vulnerable children including early care and education, nutrition assistance, neighborhood poverty, and public health. She looks forward to joining the CHILD USA team this summer!


University of Chicago Law School: Legal Intern

Leigh is a rising second-year student at the University of Chicago Law School. A graduate of Duke University with degrees in International Comparative Studies and English, Leigh taught kindergarten in Washington state prior to starting law school. In her legal work, she plans to center the needs of kids from marginalized communities through a focus on environmental justice, immigration law, and/or education law. She is excited to begin this important work with an internship at CHILD USA! Outside of work hours, you will probably find her reading a novel, baking vegan treats, or heading out to the trail for a run or hike. 


University of Pennsylvania: Fox Fellow

Cara Margolis joins CHILD USA for the summer after finishing her sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania. Cara is from a Suburb of Philly and is majoring in Health and Societies with a concentration in Public Health. She is very passionate about working with children and is committed to giving back to the greater Philadelphia community. At Penn she is involved with the West Philly Tutoring Project and served as the Philanthropy Chair of her sorority. She is very excited to be working with CHILD USA this summer!


Indiana University: Communications Intern

Emily Melnick is a rising senior at Indiana University majoring in Journalism with a concentration in Public Relations and minoring in Youth Development with a specialization in Media Psychology. Emily grew up in New Jersey but presently resides in Connecticut. Emily has a passion for child advocacy and is committed to learning more about how she can contribute to protecting children’s rights. She is looking forward to combining her social media knowledge and devotion to children at CHILD USA as a communications intern this summer.


University of Pennsylvania: Fox Fellow

Janelle is a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in political science with minors in Survey Research & Data Analytics and French. She is passionate about equitable access to higher education and oversees a cohort of Penn students who advise high school students from low-income backgrounds throughout the college application process. Janelle is eager to join the CHILD USA team this summer and learn about how the law can protect and empower vulnerable individuals.



University of Pennsylvania: Research and Development Intern

Laura Crawford joins CHILD USA for the summer after finishing her junior year at the University of Pennsylvania. Laura is majoring in anthropology and minoring in math and computer science. Since quarantine started she’s been reading, going for long walks, and wishing that she could have a puppy. She is excited to work with CHILD USA and get a look into the nonprofit world.

Vanderbilt University: Communications Intern

Brooke Deasy has joined this summer as a Communications Intern at CHILD USA. She currently lives in a suburb of Philly, and is a prospective sophomore at Vanderbilt University studying both English and Economics. She loves to read and write, and plans on pursuing a literary career, most likely publishing realistic fiction novels. She is passionate about children and absolutely loves working with young students. At Vanderbilt, she is on the dance team and performs at football and basketball games, in addition to volunteering in the greater Nashville community.

Villanova University: Research & Development Intern

Grace Jang was born in South Korea and moved to Los Angeles, CA with her immediate family when she was three. Now, she lives in Bergen County, New Jersey and is a junior at Villanova University working towards getting her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Peace and Justice Studies with a minor in Humanities. She is excited to join the CHILD USA team this summer as an intern, because she is very passionate about all the causes that CHILD USA works towards. 

University of Pennsylvania: Fox Fellow

Claire is a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Health and Societies with a concentration in Health Policy and Law, and minoring in Latin American and Latino Studies. She has a background in social science and legal research and is interested in the intersection of the legal and healthcare systems, particularly in how they can better serve marginalized communities.
She is exited to apply these interests to her work with CHILD USA and their mission of protecting children’s welfare through abuse prevention and Family Court reform.

University of Pennsylvania: Fox Fellow

Grace graduated from Penn in May 2020 with a Bachelors in Arts in the Biological Basis of Behavior (Neuroscience) and minors in Medical Sociology and Health Services Management. She is very passionate about mental health advocacy and education. In her spare time, she loves watching live theater and elite gymnastics. She’s excited to be working with CHILD USA this summer! 

Pennsylvania State University: Research & Development Intern

Katie joins CHILD USA as a Research and Development intern this summer. She is a recent graduate of the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in Biobehavioral Health, and is continuing on to receive her Masters of Public Health from Penn State’s College of Medicine. During her time as an undergraduate at Penn State, she was actively involved with the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network, working as a research assistant with the Safe and Healthy Communities Initiative. This is where her passion for preventing child abuse and neglect began, and she is excited to continue this important work with CHILD USA!