An adoptee I’ll call “Donna” has been threatened with legal action, simply for trying to exercise her right to access her information and speak with another consenting adult. Donna’s story in her own words tells it all. This is shared with her permission. Some details have been edited to protect her identity. Donna says:
Thirty years ago I requested information from the Tennessee DCS. Of course I was denied, but they asked my bmom to write me a letter. She did and explained her situation.
Fast forward to earlier this year I requested info again hoping she would change her mind. I paid $150.00 for the information and received about 100 pages of information including the names of her brothers, sister, parents and the address and phone number of her brother. There was a lot of information that I did not know about, including the fact that I was born in City X, Tn., where I currently live. She lived here too at the time of my birth. My aparents was told she lived near City Y, Tn and that was where I was born. They were lied to, I know because aparents would never lie about that. DCS asked if I would like them to contact as I was not allowed to initiate contact with bmother due to the document I signed. Only DCS could do this at an additional cost of $135.00. I told them to do it and I had to make a list of who all I wanted them to contact. So I wrote a check and listed bmom, bdad, bsiblings, baunt and buncles. When I was leaving the office the case worker commented that I was about to let the cat out of the bag and their would be some shocked people. I though about that for 2 days and decided to not contact anyone except bmom and then let her tell others. DCS could not search for bfather because even though he was listed a bdad he was not on bcertificate. The same day I decided I would like to contact buncle as I had his number and he lives here in City X. I called DCS, Person #1, and she said there was nothing saying I could not contact him just do no harm. I even asked her if this would violate the documents I had signed and she said no. I just could not contact bmom or attempt to contact her through a third party.
So, I called buncle and talked to him about 30 minutes. I told him about my great life and family and he said he would tell his sister. I told him about the signed documents and that I was not attempting to contact bmother through him. I just wanted to talk to someone I was related to. My bmom lived w buncle before and after birth so he was aware of my existence. He was very kind and insisted my bmom would want to know these things, but she probably would not want contact with me. I told him if he did talk to her to tell her I always loved her and never blamed her for what she did.
Well, a few weeks later I received a letter from DCS, Person #2, telling me I had violated my sworn statement not to contact bmother through a third party. I called her and tried to tell her I was not doing that and said if I did it again I would be charged with violating the statement and could go to jail. So I wrote them a letter explaining everything so there would be documentation of my side. I then received another letter basically saying that no one at DCS would give me permission (basically saying I lied) and again stated that I violated the statement.
Still with me? I’ll understand if you’ve had to take a moment to go slam your head against a wall. Personally I had to sit here with a wine cooler and a bowl of chocolate chips* to email Donna some questions. (*Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet chips. For this, it should have been Twilight Delight Intense Dark!)
I asked Donna the following:
What information did they deny you? Did they provide any non-identifying information or was it all contingent on your birth mom? And was this when they made you sign that document promising no contact, or was that when they provided the names? Did you have an amended BC, and did it say City X or City Y? Did they ever say in writing that this would not violate the documents you signed, or was it just verbal?
I sent the request to DCS. They sent a letter requesting specific information about me and a drivers license. I sent that. They sent another letter and a form that had to be filled out, signed and notarized. This is the document that I listed who I wanted to contact and had the statements about violating the confidentiality agreement that I had with DCS. Only DCS was allowed to search for an extra $135.00. I did that and returned it with a check for $150.00 as requested. And $135.00 for the search. A few weeks later I received a letter saying that they had the information and I could have it mailed or come and get it. I went the next day to get the info. I was take into a private room where they showed me about 100 pages of information. I looked at it all and they said they could copy it for me for 25 cents per page. I paid them for that and got all the information to take home. It included my parents names, grandparents names and her brothers and sisters names. It also included the city and state they lived in. It had all the visits documented with her, the doctors information, the foster care names and information and all my doctors visits. It also included the home visits with my aparents before and after adoption. My buncle’s address and phone number were included. He also lives in City X as do I. My amended bc said City X as birth place, that is where my aparents lived. They said after the contact with buncle, that Person #1 had given me permission to contact, that I had violated the agreement both in writing, 2 letters and over the phone.
Donna shared with me some of the paperwork she received. This is one of the threatening letters sent to her by Tennessee DCS.
This is to acknowledge the receipt of your letter regarding contact violation. First I must state that you were advised wrong on contacting aunts, uncles, cousins and spouses. You need to speak to the person that advised you that you can contact these persons or person.
As stated in my letter of January 22, 2009, your birth mother has the right to veto contact with these individuals on her Contact Veto Registry form. She had received her Contact Veto Registry form and in accordance with the adoption law allowed 90days to respond. You made contact with her brother before she sent her form back to our office for us to determine her decision on contact. So this is a violation.
You also stated, “I then told him if he did talk to her about me to tell her thank you and that I have never had any bad feelings about her giving me up for adoption”. This is an attempt (aim, try, seek) at contact via another person.
I know you were advised wrongly, but your Sworn Statement (paragraph four) is clearly defined. Your birth mother disclosed this information to me. She received it from her brother, who you contacted as well as other information you disclosed to her brother.
I might add that a recent audit resulted in an investigation of Tennessee DCS for misuse of taxpayer funds and workers looting foster kids’ savings accounts. Check out the article’s comments for more insight into other peoples’ experiences with this particular agency. I’m no lawyer and I don’t play one on the Internet, but I think they’re trying to cover their asses by using Donna as bait so they aren’t targeted for legal action. I also think this business of not letting her contact birth family members without paying them to do it is purely a way for them to make more money off adoptees and birth families. Remember Chynna and her experience with the Florida DMV? Poor Donna has no resources to fight this, no money for an attorney, no powerful politician friends or other means of asserting her rights. I am concealing her identity because I don’t want her to suffer any further than she already has. What’s really sick is I’m pretty sure all of this is legal according to Tennessee’s “open” records laws. Maybe someone more familiar with Tennessee can speak to that.
This is exactly what the people in control of our adoption records want. They want us to be powerless. They want us to have no option except to pay their ridiculous fees and subject ourselves to humiliation. If they make mistakes, they foist responsibility off on the adoptee, pitting a daughter against her mother when all Donna was trying to do was gain access to information and contact a member of her birth family that was willing to share in that contact. If Donna is able to reunite with birth family members at this point, this experience may sour any chance of ever speaking with her birth mother. I ask you, is this fair? Is it right? Are you going to let Donna and others like her suffer alone?
Or are you going to click here, find your legislators and let them know your opinion on adoption records access? Are you going to sign petitions and send postcards to lawmakers and contact news media when they write horribly skewed and fearmongering articles like this one? Because if we all slink away with our tails between our legs, nothing will ever change. If you are outraged by this, take your anger and put it to good use. People like Donna need your support. And if anyone has suggestions for her, please sing out.