One day in 1971, Judge Lois Forer and young attorney Meg Greenfield met on the street in Philadelphia. This newly-elected judge explained to Meg that children were involved in child welfare cases with no one to represent them. About the same time, Judge Hazel Brown phoned attorney Jim Redeker, looking for a guardian ad litem to represent a baby. In June of 1971, the Young Lawyers Division of the Philadelphia Bar Association formed the Committee on Child Abuse, with Meg and Jim as Chairs, with a mandate to help fill the gap in legal services for children for whom reports of abuse had been filed. The word went out!
Meanwhile, in March 1972, social worker Solomon Levy petitioned the Family Court to intervene and appoint counsel for a 10 year-old boy who had been hospitalized from severe physical abuse. Meg Greenfield recruited her Pepper Hamilton & Scheetz colleagues Arthur Pressman, Jeffrey Hayes and the late Lloyd Ziff, to represent this child, F.A. These early Child Advocates worked through the night of May 18, 1972, preparing their Petition for Extraordinary Relief to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. They had been denied access to the child’s records and even access to the child! But these young lawyers prevailed, and won the right of a child’s lawyer to gain access to his records on the case. That was only the beginning!
In March 1974, the Legal Intelligencer reported that the Child Abuse Committee was “receiving an unprecedented number of referrals from hospitals.” The Committee had 75 volunteer lawyers, including: Faith Angell, Marlene Lachman, Howard Harrison, John Mullican, Tom Bell, Edward Fitzgerald, Jim Mundy, Harry Oxman, Steve Green, Lou Paul and Norbert Bergholtz. Bob Schwartz , Judith Chomsky, Marsha Levick and Phil Margolis were frequent volunteers after their graduation from Temple Law School and the opening of the Juvenile Law Center in 1975.
Most of the early referrals came from the hospitals, but calls from Judge Nicholas Cipriani and Judge Edward Rosenberg and even some courageous internal DPW sources would soon inundate the informal mechanism. Four cases in 1972. Twenty-two cases in 1973. Sixty in 1974. Seventy-four children in 1975. Volunteer faculty offered a new multi-disciplinary training program in child abuse at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in a program that continues to this day at the Bar Education Center. Of course, the cases kept coming.
Meanwhile in the legislature and academia, child abuse was getting the world’s attention. Our founders worked with State Senator Mike O’Pake to draft the new Juvenile Act and the Child Advocate legislation. In 1975 as well, Peg O’Shea would found the Child Advocacy Unit at the Defender Association, and the right to counsel would become institutionalized.
In the mid-seventies, some lawyers saw volunteer service as competition for fee-generating work, but the leadership of the Philadelphia Bar Association stood tall. When Meg and Jim were honored by the Association with the Fidelity Award in 1976, they announced that The Pennsylvania Public Health Trust Fund had awarded $60,000 as seed money from an anti-trust action! The Bar was full of excitement! On February 1, 1977, the Support Center for Child Advocates was incorporated. The first Board President was Libby Fishman. Carol Schrier was hired as the first Executive Director, fresh out of Temple Law School. Dechert donated office space, and the Pepper and Morgan law firms gave furniture. In 1978, a foundation sent a large three-year grant, telling Jim and Carol, “We are looking for FUNKY things to fund and you are about as funky as we can get.”
The group moved to 1315 Walnut Street in 1978, and to 801 Arch Street and the Equal Justice Center in 1991. Naomi Post succeeded Carol Schrier as Executive Director in 1983, and Paul DiLorenzo followed in 1987. The Board of Directors appointed General Counsel Frank Cervone as Executive Director in 1992.
From the Guardian ad Litem Project and Adoption and Foster Care Task Force of the 80s, to the Children of Substance Abusing Families (ChildSAF) and the Teen Permanency Project of the 1990s, to the domestic violence/child abuse initiative Families Without Violence, and current work with gay, lesbian and transgender youth, Child Advocates has worked to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children and to improve the system of care. Filed in 1990, the decade-long federal class action known as Baby Neal – with our clients as class members and our staff and volunteers serving as Next Friends – brought sweeping changes at DHS and Family Court. The agency co-sponsored the first National Conference on Kinship Care in 1991, and continues to advance the field with Kids’n’Kin: The Caregiving Program. We were recognized three times with the Glaxo (SmithKline Beecham) Community Health Impact Award for Volunteers for Medically Needy Children and for efforts to improve outcomes measurement for children’s law programs in 1999, 2006 and 2011. In 2000, we received the Please Touch Museum’s Great Friend to Kids Award. In 2002 we co-founded the National Children’s Law Network, a consortium of eight children’s law centers around the nation that works to ensure that every child is “in school, in the right school, and finishing school.” We were named the 2012 Non-Profit of the Year by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.
Our supporters have been numerous, generous and faithful. The Philadelphia Bar Charity Run marks its 34th year in 2013. CONRAIL presented the agency’s 20th Anniversary Celebration during the 1997 President’s Summit on Volunteerism, and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton accepted the first Judge Lois Forer Child Advocacy Award. A $2.2 Million Capital Campaign helped us purchase and renovate our new home at 1900 Cherry Street. Agency leadership has worked to improve salaries and benefits for staff, and Child Advocates received the Best Employer for Working Parents Award from the Delaware Valley Child Care Council. The agency is admired and modeled by many.
Growth has been incremental and steady. Twelve staff in 1993. Fifteen staff and a then-record 552 children served in 1996. Twenty-seven staff and more than 800 children served in 2012. The work has grown more difficult, the funding remains largely charitable. Our tasks grow: community leadership, briefs amicus curiae, policy initiatives, training sessions, community education programs, and all the rest. Child Advocates remains the place to call for a lawyer for a child. Now more than 36 years and tens of thousands of child clients later, we continue to answer that call!