Update From Threatened Tennessee Adoptee

A while back I posted the story of “Donna”, the adoptee who was threatened by Tennessee DCS for contacting a birth relative who wanted to be contacted. I subsequently posted an open letter from Fr. Jack Sweeley taking Tennessee DCS to task.

I’m glad to report the following update from Donna:

Well, I am in shock! I am the Tennessee girl who got into trouble with DCS for contacting my buncle. My bmother had filed a contact veto after I had contacted him, but I still got in trouble. Anyway, today I received in the mail a letter from DCS saying my bmother had rescinded the contact veto and will allow one phone call and then “we go from there.” I am so excited I am shaking. My first inclination was to pick up the phone and call, but I need to think about all the things I want to say and ask. I don’t want to screw this up. I want further contact. She sent her phone number and address and a current photo. We don’t look anything alike. I have her current last name and her driver’s license number. This was all included for identification I guess. She lives in the same town as me and only a few miles from where my husband grew up. I can’t breathe!!!

Donna has since spoken with her birth mother and hopes for further contact in the future. I am very excited for Donna and pray that their reunion moves forward with positive outcomes for all involved. I’m also glad this takes the heat off her concerning Tennessee DCS’s threats, although I’m sure they’ll take advantage of the situation to chalk her up as another “success” in their statistics much as Illinois did to me.

Congratulations to Donna and her family!

Open Letter To Tennessee DCS

In response to the story about “Donna”, the adoptee who was threatened with legal action and jail time for speaking with a willing birth relative, I received the following open letter to Tennessee DCS. It’s from Fr. John “Jack” Sweeley, theologian and author of Rights, Liberties, and Social Justice: How America Lost Its Moral Authority. Am I allowed to say a priest knows how to kick some serious butt? This is posted with his permission.

16 July 2009

Open Letter
Tennessee Department of Children’s Services

This letter is written in response to the recent case of a woman threatened with being sent to prison for allegedly violating the no-contact clause that allowed her to receive information, including the names of birth relatives, pertaining to her adoption. What was her alleged crime that could have her doing time in the Tennessee State Prison System? Her “crime” was that after receiving the information for which she paid the Tennessee Department of Children Services $150.00 she had the audacity to contact her birth uncle by telephone – not in an attempt to contact her birth mother but rather just to hear the voice of a person who was a blood relative.

To put the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services threat to put this woman in prison with convicted felons such as murders, bank robbers, and the lowest of Tennessee’s low life criminals, it must be understood that Tennessee claims to be an “open records” state. Open records states are states that by law allow adults who were adopted as children to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate and unless their birth mother has signed a “Contact Preference Form” to the contrary are free to search for, find, and ring the doorbell of their birth mother.

Tennessee is not one of these states. The Tennessee open records case Doe v. Sunquist was decided in favor of the adoptee Doe and that decision was upheld by the Fourth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals. Most significantly the judge in that case stated that, “Birth is both a public and private matter” and that, “Birth mothers were never given a promise of confidentiality or anonymity.” Additionally, “If any such promise was given by social workers, maternity homes, or attorneys such promises were extra-legal; that is, outside of the law and therefore not binding on the state.”

In response to the clarity and absolute right of adults who were adopted as children to obtain their original birth certificate, search for, find, and ring the doorbell of their birth mother, the State of Tennessee passed legislation that effectively gutted the decision of the court by instituting both the requirement of a “Confidential Intermediary” licensed by the State of Tennessee to conduct the search and a “Contact Veto Form” which allows a birth mother to state she does not grant permission for the child, now adult, to whom she gave birth to contact her or any of her relatives. The irony of this is that the Confidential Intermediary as part of their search has full disclosure of the adoption record and is allowed to contact not only the birth mother but also all members of her family of origin as well as family members of the family she married into and the family members of any family she may have previously married into.

At this point one may be shaking their heads in wonder at this convoluted state of affairs where in America a woman can be sent to prison for making a telephone call to her biological uncle. If so, you are not alone. So, how can this happen? It can happen because in America it is still believed that there are hundreds of thousands of birthmothers hiding in the closet riddled with shame and fear they will be “outed” by their progeny. Moreover, it is believed by legislators in almost all states that these birth mothers need the protection of the state because if found the result will be disrupted families, divorce, nervous breakdowns, and suicide.

Such a scenario stretches the imagination of even the most imaginative science fiction writer. So, what is the origin of such ideas and why are they believed when they are nothing more than cartoon-like characters? How can they continue to be believed when the experience of states that have opened their adoption records without restriction such as Oregon, Alabama, New Hampshire, and Maine has proven them to be nothing more than poppycock mythology?

They can because the well of reason and experience has been poisoned by The National Council for Adoption that purports to speak for all members of the adoption triad: birth mothers, adoptees, and adoptive parents. As such, it continues to contend that birth mothers were promised confidentiality and anonymity if not on paper than as a verbal pledge and that pledge trumps court decisions to the contrary. However, as my Native American ancestors would say, “National Council for Adoption speaks with forked tongue and cannot be trusted because it lies.”

The fact is that the National Council for Adoption was created by mega players of the Adoption Industry including Gladney in Texas, The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) Adoption Services, and Bethany Christian Services that has adoption centers in over twenty-five states. From its inception, the National Council for Adoption has been a trade lobby for these and other adoption agencies that fear opening adoption records as a consequence of their unethical, immoral, and illegal past as well as present practices. It is the National Council for Adoption that created the bogyman, more accurately the bogeywoman, of the birth mother trembling and shaking in fear hiding in the back of the closet afraid that one day her progeny will knock on the door and her secret will be exposed.

This brings us back to the woman in Tennessee and the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services intimidation of her for making a phone call to her uncle in which she emphasized she was not calling him in an effort to enlist him, a third party, to contact his sister on her behalf. Her only intent was to hear the voice of one person in this world to whom she is genetically related.

What is particularly telling in this sordid farce perpetrated by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services response to this woman is that it concedes the following:

1. The woman contacted the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services prior to calling her uncle to be sure doing so would not violate the “no contact” clause of the document she was forced to sign before she could received the 100 pages of information that contained the names of her birth mother and biological relatives.

2. The woman was told by the person she spoke to that contacting her uncle by telephone would not be a violation of the “no contact” agreement she had signed.

3. By law the birth mother had 90 days to return her “Contact Veto Form” if she did not want her progeny to contact her or any of her relatives.

4. The woman had been told she could call her uncle and the call was made prior to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services receiving the birth mother’s “Contact Veto Form” that she did not want to communicate with her progeny nor allow communication with her relatives.

As incredulous as it is, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services sent a letter to the woman, the letter in which it threatened to send her to prison, stating that she had violated the “no contact” agreement she had signed in two ways. How could this be true?

First, she had contacted her uncle prior to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services being in receipt of her birth mother’s “Contact Veto Form” which stated she did not want to be contacted and none of her relatives could be contacted.

Secondly, she was in violation because at the end of her conversation with her uncle she told her uncle, “If you talk with her about me thank you; and, that I have never had any bad feelings about her giving me up for adoption.” According to the letter, “This is an attempt (aim, try, seek) at contact via another person.”

The first alleged violation is in flagrante delicto (invalid by its very act) because the woman called her uncle predicated on the affirmation by a social worker at the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services that to do so was not a violation of the “no contact” document she had signed. The woman cannot be held responsible for the obvious failure of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services to create a policy that requires no information is to be released prior to the 90 days given birth mothers to return the “Contact Veto Form.” Moreover, if such a policy did exist, she certainly cannot be held responsible for employees of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services who either do not know of the policy or do not follow it.

As to the validly or rather invalidity of the second so-called violation I am dumbfounded by both the words and how they are used. Is this the best an educated person can write who presumably has not only a bachelor’s degree but also a master’s degree in social work? Thank goodness for my degree is in psycholinguistics not so that I can try to understand the intent of the social worker’s statement but rather so I can at least try to understand the total lack of linguistic skills, the lack of facility of the language, in which it is written.

The first conundrum is to try to unravel what is meant by “…attempt (aim, try, seek)…” Why was it necessary to use four different words to express one thought especially when “aim” and “seek” in no way either denote or connote “attempt” as if in some way “attempt” was the antecedent to “aim” and “seek”? All that I can surmise from this jumble of words is that the writer was in the same position as were my students when I was a college professor and they either did not know or could not articulate the thought they were trying to convey. Consequently, they used what I call “the shotgun approach” stringing together several words hoping that one of them conveys what it is they cannot convey by the proper use of the language. Like my students, perhaps the social worker does not have sufficient vocabulary development to make the proper citation or perhaps this is simply an example of a person who is ignorant of how to write a sentence.

That said and as condemning as it is, perhaps the problem lies in the fact that the word “contact” is absolutely the wrong word to use to express the social worker’s intent. What does the word “contact” mean? “Contact” in English is taken from the Latin contactus which in turn is taken from contingere which means “to touch or seize.” It is also related to langere which also means “touch.” When combined with the Latin com which means “together” we can now denote the word “contact.”

To contact is therefore an act or action of bringing two entities together in physical proximity. As such, it is immediate and requires that the two entities are within physical touching distance. Contact can also mean a relationship in the abstract such as coming into contact with previously unknown philosophical constructs. Contact can also be used in the sense of making contact with colleagues at a seminar. Contact also has specific meanings in such fields as the physics of electricity, in higher mathematics as in tangency and coincidence, in mining as the geometric term for marking the limit of a vein, and in medicine when two persons are close enough to pass a communicable disease between them.

As the social worker was not using “contact” in any of its denoted meanings and most likely is ignorant of that fact due to a deficiency in Latin, the only response to this statement of alleged violation of the “no contact” document given both its erroneous denotation and expression is that the statement in fact does not convey any intelligible meaning. Consequently, it is not a valid statement.

What this woman has been subjected to by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is nothing short of their version of the Nightmare on Elm Street followed by The Amityville Horror. This kind of bullying and intimidation would not be tolerated by any other public agency because doing so would be on the nightly news and public outrage would follow.

Yet, not only this woman but approximately nine million – yes nine million – Americans who live in, “the land of the brave and home of free” who were adopted as children are denied their civil right to search for, find, and ring the doorbell of family members lost to them.

To put this into perspective, the only other citizens of America in the same position as adults who were adopted as children are people in the Federal Witness Protection Program who also are not allowed to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate or search for, find, and ring the doorbell of family members lost to them.

In his, Letters From a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote, “No man is free until all men are free.” Adults who were adopted as children in America, with the exception of a few states, are not free because they are denied access to that very document that denotes their true identity, their true self, which is their original birth certificate. More importantly, they are not free because contact vetoes are a de facto restraining order issued without the necessity of birth mothers appearing before a judge and presenting sufficient evidence that harm would result if their progeny searched, found, and rang their doorbell.

Monsignor John W. Sweeley, Th.D., Pastor

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.