By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – When attorney Frank Cervone gave the graduation keynote speech for St. Francis-St. Joseph Homes for Children at Rosewood Caterers in Northeast Philadelphia May 23, he began with a fairly standard observation: he told the graduates they were at the end of a beginning. And of course, he spoke of the values learned they must take with them.

But those he stressed were not career-oriented. He stressed the positive values for raising children well.

Cervone knows of what he speaks. He is executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates, an agency that provides legal assistance and social services advocacy for abused and neglected children in Philadelphia County. Most of the young men he was addressing would have, at some time in their lives, fallen into this category. Cervone’s interest is in breaking the cycle. {{more}}

As he noted in an interview after the speech, there were no men in the room who appeared to be fathers of the graduates.

“I felt it was important for them to engage in their futures,” he said. “Jails are filled with men who were our kids, and we are responsible. We can’t keep raising kids who are going to jail. We have to raise kids as better parents.”

His agency, which also trains attorneys for pro bono child advocacy work, has a staff of 10 social workers, seven lawyers and support personnel. There is enough work out there to keep them all busy.

“We represent about 800 children a year,” Cervone said.

Roughly 45 percent of the cases they take on involve sexual abuse.

“The paradigm is an 8-year-old girl, sexually abused by her step-father and not supported by her mother who stands with the perpetrator,” he said.

Other cases might involve physical abuse or severe neglect. Very rarely is the agency involved with a child who is accused of a crime.

The standard situation is that something bad has happened or is happening to the child and there is no one in their life willing to cooperate with the authorities. The case is referred to the Support Center by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.

Cervone is originally from St. Mary of the Eternal Parish, growing up at a time when his 29th and Allegheny neighborhood was changing from Caucasian to African-American, with many of the animosities that often accompany change. This bothered him, even at a young age.

“I made a decision, I was going to stand away from racism,” he said.

When he went on to La Salle College High School he was exposed to strong social justice values – values which he carried through his years at the University of Pennsylvania and Villanova Law School, and through legal aid work in the City of Chester.

In 1981 he joined the De La Salle Christian Brothers, the congregation that taught him at La Salle. As a Christian Brother he worked with juveniles at St. Gabriel’s Hall in Audubon.

He left the Brothers after nine years, but didn’t leave his vocation to children at risk. He joined the Support Center for Child Advocates in 1990 as a staff attorney and two years later moved up to executive director.

Now he is no longer working with children who have been judged delinquent but with children before they become delinquents. Although he left the Christian Brothers the words of the congregation’s founder, St. John Baptist De La Salle, still frame his life work: “The brothers shall touch the hearts of the children entrusted in their care.”

For more about the Support Center for Child Advocates visit

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.