Dear Ms. Miller-Perry

I am familiar with the case referenced in “An Open Letter to Sen. Jeff Yarbro” dated May 23, 2022 related to an ongoing child welfare matter. We were initially contacted by a family member on Friday, May 6, 2022. Since then, my staff and/or I have reviewed multiple emails received from this family member and spoken to her numerous times. Notably, she authorized us to share the information she provided us with the Department of Children’s Services (DCS).

My staff and I first discussed the matter briefly on May 11, which was coincidentally a day that I was meeting with DCS Commissioner Jennifer Nichols and one of her deputies in my office. The following day, my senior policy advisor contacted the Commissioner’s office about this particular case and shared with DCS information we had received from the family member.

Contrary to the information relayed to you and referenced in the open letter, neither I nor anyone in my office has shared with DCS any case-related information provided to our office by the Tennessee Tribune. While the Tennessee Tribune’s reporter, Mr. White, shared some information related to this matter with our office, no one in our office forwarded or shared any of this information with DCS or had any cause to do so. The open letter states:

A member of your staff told the Tennessee Tribune reporter they shared everything they had with DCS and intended to keep doing so. He seemed proud to share relevant information from the Tennessee Tribune’s facts in our investigation by sharing it with the very Agency we were investigating.

This is inaccurate. There is only one male staffer in my office, and he has not been involved in our office’s communications with the family member or with DCS in relation to this matter. He has not shared information received from the Tennessee Tribune or from the family member with anyone – or even spoken about the case to anyone at DCS. As stated above, the only case-related information our office has shared with DCS is information received from the family member pursuant to her authorization.

           The open letter is also inaccurate in stating that “your staff has not communicated with you after multiple requests.” Mr. White called our office on May 19, suggesting that I personally intervene with the DCS Commissioner to make a specific request related to this case. While this was an unusual request to receive from a reporter, my office forwarded it to me the very same day. They did not send Mr. White the proof he requested about how they had performed that task. Nor should they have done so because that particular request was inappropriate. I did not have the capacity to appropriately consider the suggested intervention with the Commissioner that afternoon. Moreover, I do not believe it would have been appropriate for me to hastily contact the Commissioner of DCS about pending child welfare litigation without more fully apprising myself of the particular circumstances.

To the extent that the open letter is premised on my office sharing case-related information received from the Tennessee Tribune with DCS or my staff failing to share pertinent information with me, those concerns are misplaced and based on demonstrably inaccurate information. To the extent that the letter was precipitated by Mr. White’s frustration about how I or my staff responded to his requests, I believe it is inappropriate. Before taking action that could affect the welfare of children, I am not going to rely on the say-so of a third party, no matter how well-intentioned or determined. I will instead base any such action on my communications with the family and the facts of the case. I think you’d be disappointed in me if I did any less.

One of my favorite things about the Tennessee Tribune is its willingness to hold politicians to account, and all of Tennessee’s politicians deserve to be held to account for not doing enough for abused and neglected children in Tennessee. I share Mr. White’s passion and frankly his frustration with the State in that regard, and I have always respected him and his work. It is unfortunate in this instance that Mr. White misperceived his interactions with my office. It is even more unfortunate that he did not reach out to me directly or discuss this matter in a civil way before pushing for a public rebuke that so badly misses the mark.

I know that my staffers are genuinely trying to help this family and can personally attest that, contrary to Mr. White’s impression of events, they have consistently apprised me of their work. Despite the fact that none of the family members reside in or even near my district, my office staff has dedicated many hours of their time to advocate on behalf of the children involved. I am proud of them for doing it. This is not the type of work for which they should receive public criticism from The Tennessee Tribune. 


           Sen. Jeff Yarbro