Cleveland Native Antwone Fisher Describes Foster Care Traumas To U.S. Senate Committee
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The childhood suffering that Glenville native Antwone Fisher endured under Ohio’s foster care system has already been the subject of a book and Hollywood film. On Tuesday, it was the subject of a U.S. Senate hearing on ways to reform the child welfare system.
Fisher’s father was murdered before he was born and his mother was in prison at the time of his birth. He spent 12 years living with a foster family who abused him physically, sexually and verbally before he was sent to a reform school in Western Pennsylvania.
“I don’t think that a child should have to spend his entire childhood in foster care just because the birth parents can’t get themselves together,” Fisher, 53, told the committee. “Children should be offered the opportunity to be adopted early in life no matter how ashamed or horrified the birth parents might feel.”
A few months before he turned 18, a social worker deposited Fisher outside a homeless shelter in downtown Cleveland with $60 in his pocket and no job prospects, telling him he was “emancipated.” That situation exposed Fisher to ruthless predators who tried to recruit him for criminal enterprises. He said making rules for himself, such as avoiding drugs and not staying out late, kept him out of trouble while living on the streets.
“I feel that the reason a great number of former foster children eventually land in prisons is because the children are not (told) that they will have to plan for their adult lives ahead of time or told how to avoid unscrupulous situations,” Fisher said.
After several months of homelessness, Fisher joined the U.S. Navy, which helped him turn his life around. He later worked as a movie studio security guard in Los Angeles, where he met a producer who decided to make a film about his life. His autobiography, Finding Fish, was published in 2001, and the movie Antwone Fisher came out the next year. He now works as an author, movie director and film producer.
Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, said he sought the views of Fisher and other witnesses because the committee is examining whether to extend grant programs that reward states for increasing adoption rates and that help children in foster care reconnect with their own families.
“Foster care should be our last resort, not our first resort,” former Franklin County Children’s Services Director Eric Fenner told the committee. Fenner now serves as Managing Director of Casey Family Programs in Westerville, Ohio.
Other witnesses described how easy it has become to find the relatives of endangered children, and urged that such searches become standard practice. Kevin Campbell, who heads the Center for Finding Family and Youth Connectedness in Lakewood, Washington, said it took him 10 minutes to find 62 of Fisher’s relatives before Tuesday’s hearing.
Fisher used a Cleveland phone book to track down family members after he left the Navy. He found that an uncle had lived two streets away from him when he was growing up in Glenville and he that attended elementary school with his cousins without knowing they were related. He said he didn’t try to find relatives sooner because several of his foster siblings were rejected by their birth families.
Fisher told U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Avon, that he probably would have ended up living with an aunt in Chicago if social service agencies had tried to track down his relatives instead of putting him in foster care.
“I have really come to a place of forgiveness for everything, even my foster parents,” Fisher said. “I just think the best way to go is to have the life, whatever life I have left, to make the best life that I can. And you really have to forgive.”
“Keep doing the great work you’re doing,” said Hatch.