Tennessee Adoptee Threatened For Asserting Her Rights

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?

Donna responds:

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.


  1. First of all, let me start out by saying that reading this story gave me a feeling parallel to being punched in the stomach and having the wind knocked out of me. How humiliating and demeaning. How inconsiderate and heartless. My heart goes out to Donna.

    Here’s my help for Donna. You were NOT in violation. On the sworn statement you signed, under section 2-a it says “I understand and avow that after I receive any of the records noted above through the Department of Children’s Services, I will not, either alone, or acting with others, attempt to establish contact or establish any contact personally or by correspondence, nor will I attempt to establish contact or establish any contact by any other means of contact with either the persons in the classes of persons described in Paragraph 6 below who may be discovered or otherwise identified in the records wo which I am given access and who may have filed a contact veto or who may be eligible to register with the Contact Veto Registry or who may be protected by a currect contact veto UNLESS I RECEIVE CONSENT FROM THOSE PERSONS THROUGH THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN’S SERVICES.” It is THEIR responsibility to advice who is IS and ISN’T ok to contact because THEY are in charge of the Contact Veto Registry. THEY dropped the ball, and according to what I just quoted, it is NOT your fault. Biological uncles are included as individuals who must be contacted by the state first in order to determine if contact is OK (they are eligible for the Contact Veto Registry). However, since you contacted the state for permission first, as you swore you would, and they told you it was OK, I don’t see where they are going with this.

    Donna, you may not have a lawyer or money for legal fees but what you do have is an interesting story that your local newspaper and news stations might be willing to bring to public eye. Speak out for yourself. Do not let anyone step all over you. Good luck!

  2. I’m sorry Donna does not have the funds for a good lawyer. Maybe she could find someone to do pro bono work? What we need are few good legal challenges to these ridiculous laws. They can’t pass constitutional muster, IMO. These laws have created a whole subset of people with special rights and another subset with restricted rights. Tough legal challenges are the only way out of this mess.

  3. You know Triona, this is enraging and terrifying-we are treated like the African Americans were for drinking out of the “whites only” fountains and refusing to sit at the back of the bus-I think all of us, need to really politely start calling the White House comment line and asking them to tell President Obama that Birth Mother Privacy IS A LIE and even the ACLU doesn’t have it’s facts straight, and we Adoptees are suffering NOTHING less than total discrimination in part because we are “bastards” and because keeeping us down, keeps the Adoption Industry rich. We need to tell him to please STOP funding Adoption, because it feeds bigotry, it doesn’t help children (not the way the system is).It would help too, if the BSE Mothers would do the same-we have to start making a major stink, and find a way to get the media to start telling the truth about Adoption or this will end no time soon. Go to jail because you want to know who your Mtoher is, or talk to her, or talk to other memebers of your bloodline? THEY should be imprisoned, with all their identifying and non identifying BULLSHIT, NOT us…..my heart goes out to Donna too and I agree with maybe-I hope she finds a good attorney-hell we all need a good attorney…..

  4. http://Donna says

    Thanks for the comments and the advice. Actually my bmother is the one who put a contact veto on all of her family, including brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren, etc… The DCS never had a chance to contact anyone other than her because she said no contact for anyone.Apparently she has that power under the Tn. law.At least that is what DCS says.

  5. Donna, I would love to know what the hell makes it legal for one adult to make that kind of decision for other adults. If there was a law that said one family member could, say, prevent all the other family members from eating chocolate, that would never hold up in court. But add the magic word “adoption” and suddenly anything goes.

  6. This is reprehensible.

    There must be some legal help available. Meanwhile, IF readers know anyone in TN they should send them the link to this blog. My birth family is from TN and I am in contact with several cousins who will hear about this ASAP!

  7. All I have to say is this is RIDICULOUS! I know I sound like a broken record. Maybe that is the key word I just sound broken as in ways we adoptees are just that!

    I frankly do not give a yahoo that Donna did or did not sign some kind of consent. She is an adult and has EVERY RIGHT as such to contact family.

    This going through third party thing is utter nonsense and completely insane to me. Noone should be sitting in my bedroom on my bed with me unless they were invited!

    Donna is a full-fledged tax paying adult. She can make her own decisions. If her bmom does not desire contact upon Donna doing so then she as another full-fledged adult should say so directly to Donna.

    I again ask where is the document that Donna’s bmom signed for anonimity? Where did Donna sign anything as an adult? Possibly the state felt the need when she was a child to make decisions for her, but Donna is no longer that helpless child.

    This is all about the adoption cash-cow plain and simple. Take a look at how much your state benefits from adoption annually. It is mind boggling. I would feel much better if my state, Florida, just said directly to me that yes, we will not open your records or give you your o.b.c. as we are afraid to take a chance on even the slightest hiccup with this fabulous cash flow avenue, adoption!

    I am so sorry Donna if you are reading this. You are not alone. I say go ahead and contact. Let them threaten to send you to jail. Can you imagine the hey-day the media would have with that one!

    Broken Adoptee of the shut down state, Florida