Connect with us

News

Distraught Over Orders to Investigate Trans Kids’ Families, Texas Child Welfare Workers Are Resigning

Published

on

Distraught over orders to investigate trans kids’ families, Texas child welfare workers are resigning” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Do you work with or for Texas Child Protective Services? We’d like to talk to you. The Texas Tribune is pursuing a number of stories involving the state’s child protective services agency, and we’d like to speak with as many staffers as possible. You can contact reporter Reese Oxner at roxner@texastribune.org or Eleanor Klibanoff at eleanor.klibanoff@texastribune.org. You can also leak us a tip by contacting us over Signal at 512-745-2713.

Morgan Davis, a transgender man, joined Texas’ child welfare agency as an investigator to be the advocate he never had growing up.

Less than a year later, one of the first cases under Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to investigate parents of transgender children landed on his desk.

His supervisors in the Travis County office of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services offered to reassign the case, but maybe, he thought, he was the right person for the job.

“If somebody was going to do it, I’m glad it was me,” Davis said.

He hoped it would be reassuring to the family to see a transgender man at the helm of the investigation. But the family’s lawyer didn’t see it that way.

“She said, ‘I know your intentions are good. But by walking in that door, as a representative for the state, you are saying in a sense that you condone this, that you agree with it,’” Davis said.

“It hit me like a thunderbolt. It’s true,” he said. “By me being there, for even a split second, a child could think they’ve done something wrong.”

Davis resigned shortly after. Since the directive went into effect, each member of his four-person unit has put in their notice as well.

While the attorney general’s office has gone to great lengths to defend the governor’s directive in court, the agency responsible for carrying out the investigations has been roiled by resistance and resignations as employees struggle with ethical questions they’ve never faced before.

More than half a dozen child abuse investigators told The Texas Tribune that they either have resigned or are actively job hunting as a result of the directive.

A spokesperson for DFPS declined to comment on the resignations or answer specific questions, citing pending litigation.

The employees, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs, said they feel conflicted — unwilling to undertake what they see as discriminatory investigations and critical of the agency’s internal response to requests for guidance, but haunted by what a mass exodus of experienced child abuse investigators would mean for the state’s most vulnerable children.

“Things are already slipping through the cracks. … We will see investigations that get closed where intervention could have occurred,” one supervisor said. “And children will die in Texas.”

Morgan Davis gave notice of his resignation on April 4, 2022, at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
Morgan Davis gave notice of his resignation on April 4. “If this is the hill I go out on, I’m proud to do it,” Davis said. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

A “heartbreaking” investigation

From the moment he got the case, Davis felt the conflict acutely. He joined DFPS to help children facing abuse and neglect, not children receiving medical care under the direction of a doctor — medical care that made such a difference in his own life.

Gender-affirming care is endorsed by all the major medical associations as the proper treatment for gender dysphoria, the distress someone can feel when their assigned sex doesn’t align with their gender identity. While many young people focus on social transition — dressing differently or using different pronouns — some are prescribed puberty blockers, which are reversible, or hormone therapy.

[What is gender-affirming medical care for transgender children? Here’s what you need to know.]

Davis felt the directive was an unnecessary overreach — he knew firsthand the care and caution that doctors take when prescribing treatments for gender dysphoria.

Even the person who made the child abuse report didn’t seem to agree with the directive: Davis said they were sobbing on the phone, distraught that they were reporting the family, but the person was mandated by law to report child abuse and feared the consequences of not making a report.

“[They] said to me, ‘Just promise me you’ll be kind,’” Davis remembered.

When he visited the family, the house was clean, the pantry was well stocked and the kids were healthy, happy and well loved. He tried to be as reassuring as possible, reiterating again and again what a good job the parents were doing raising their children in a safe and loving way.

But the family was clearly terrified, he said.

“It was just heartbreaking to me, to everyone, to see what we were doing, to see what we had become,” Davis said.

After that, Davis said he couldn’t keep working for an agency that would target families this way. Last week, he put in his notice; he is going to keep working until mid-May to wrap up as many of his open cases as he can to help minimize the burden on his colleagues.

But even though Davis told his supervisor there was no evidence of abuse, the investigation into that child’s family will remain open, likely long after he’s left, while the state continues to fight in court for the right to investigate parents just like those.

Inside the agency

Employees at the Travis County DFPS office say they found out about Abbott’s directive the same way most people did — on the news. They were shocked and devastated to see their agency become politicized, several said.

When they got an invitation to an emergency staff meeting the next day, many of them hoped they’d be told the agency wouldn’t be following the governor’s directive.

Instead, they received confirmation that they would now be required to open investigations into reports of parents who provide gender-affirming care to their children. They were instructed to treat these cases very differently than others.

According to a meeting agenda reviewed by the Tribune, supervisors were told that they needed to notify their chain of command when they received one of these cases (“as we know these can be difficult,” the agenda read) and that the agency’s general counsel would be working on guidelines to determine how to rule on these cases.

Several employees say they were told to mark all the cases under Abbott’s directive as sensitive, a rare designation usually reserved for cases in which DFPS employees are personally involved.

They were also instructed not to communicate about these cases in writing, a directive that struck the employees as unusual, unethical and risky.

“We document … as relentlessly as we do because it’s a way to make sure there’s individual responsibility for actions that are taken that can be tracked back to who made the decision,” said one Travis County child protective investigations supervisor. “I could be held responsible for a decision made in my case that I didn’t make, but I have no way to defend myself.”

Investigators and supervisors said they don’t typically investigate cases if the only allegation is that a parent is giving their child medication prescribed by a doctor. Instead, those cases are ruled out without a formal investigation and designated “priority none.”

In fact, they said, the agency usually gets involved in cases with the opposite problem: parents who won’t or don’t give their child prescribed medications.

But supervisors at the emergency staff meeting say they were told cases in which parents were providing medically prescribed gender-affirming care to their children could not be marked priority none and had to be investigated.

“This is literally a direct contradiction of the policy … because we are telling parents we understand that a doctor … is telling you to do this, but we don’t like it,” said one senior-level supervisor.

When people on the call pointed out that these cases would not meet the standards for physical abuse or medical neglect as laid out in the Texas Family Code, they were told that policy would be generated to match the directives, according to several employees who were in the meeting.

One senior-level supervisor said the response seemed to be, “basically, do it now and policy will catch up later, and everything will be fine.”

For a lot of employees, the special requirements on these cases have put them in an untenable situation.

“We already have such a high level of responsibility that our ethics can’t be called into question,” said another senior-level supervisor who is still employed by the agency. “We have the ability to remove people’s children. We have to be able to pass muster at every level. [This] has dramatically affected the trust that I have in this department as a whole.”

Many DFPS employees say they feel caught in a tug of war between their ethics and their obligations. They say they don’t want to be foot soldiers following Attorney General Ken Paxton and Abbott into this latest culture war, but they need their jobs and they worry about what will happen to vulnerable children if they leave.

Many of those who have stayed have been engaging in small acts of resistance to the directive. Last week, DFPS workers from several offices signed on to an amicus brief condemning the order. Several Travis County staff members wore T-shirts one day proclaiming their support for trans kids; others have added subtle rainbows to their office decor.

Randa Mulanax decided to leave the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

DFPS supervisor Randa Mulanax decided to quit the agency shortly before testifying at a court hearing where a judge paused Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to launch child abuse investigations against families who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children. “I knew that saying something internally wasn’t going to do anything.” Mulanax said. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

Resignations and resistance

A week after the directive came out, the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on behalf of a DFPS employee, identified only as Jane Doe, who was under investigation for child abuse for providing gender-affirming care to her 16-year-old daughter.

At the hearing, a lawyer for the state said DFPS was not going to investigate “every trans youth or every young person undergoing these kinds of treatments and procedures.”

The directive was intended to convey “not that gender-affirming treatments are necessarily or per se abusive, but that these treatments, like virtually any other implement, could be used by somebody to harm a child,” said assistant attorney general Ryan Kercher.

Watching the hearing, Travis County investigators were confused. In the emergency meeting after Abbott announced the directive, they say regional leadership told them the exact opposite — they had to investigate these cases, even if there was no evidence that these medications were being forced on a child or otherwise used as a form of abuse.

A judge granted a temporary restraining order, halting the investigation into that family, and scheduled a hearing to consider a statewide pause to the governor’s directive.

Soon after, DFPS supervisor Randa Mulanax put in her resignation at the Travis County office. She’d reached out to the ACLU to see how she could help block this directive from being implemented and agreed to testify at the next hearing.

On the stand, she told the judge that the cases being investigated under Abbott’s directive are treated differently than others, and that the ethical conundrum those cases had sparked left her no choice but to resign. The judge granted a temporary statewide injunction that day, blocking these investigations from continuing until a full trial in July.

Paxton has asked the Texas Supreme Court to intervene and allow the investigations to continue while the case proceeds through the courts. After several days of confusion, supervisors said they were told the cases are “on pause” — they remain open, but investigative activities are currently suspended.

The injunction also stops DFPS from investigating new reports of child abuse based solely on allegations that a parent provided gender-affirming care to a child.

When Mulanax returned to the office after testifying, she said her office door was covered in thank-you notes and her email inbox was overflowing with gratitude from families, lawyers and fellow DFPS employees.

Mulanax said she felt proud that she’d contributed to blocking the directive but was wracked with guilt over what her resignation would mean for an already overburdened department.

“I understood that things were going to get worse with me leaving,” she said. “I’m leaving cases behind that have been reassigned two or three times and bounced around from supervisor to supervisor. But do I trade in my ethics and my morality?”

The state’s child welfare agency has long struggled to recruit and retain qualified staff. It’s a grueling job, made more difficult in recent years as the agency scrambles to try to comply with the terms of a decadelong federal lawsuit.

The state is still dealing with a crisis of foster children without permanent placement who sleep in state offices, often for weeks at a time. DFPS employees take shifts supervising these kids; supervisors, who are salaried, do not get paid overtime for that work.

And that’s in addition to their existing, often overwhelming job duties investigating some of the most heartbreaking, challenging cases of abuse and neglect.

Several employees said investigators at the Travis County office are often getting assigned five to seven new cases a week — more than double what they say is recommended as best practice — on top of an already teetering pile of open cases.

“It’s a very scary time here right now,” one senior-level supervisor said. “You never know what you’re going to come into the next day, if someone else is going to leave and you’re going to have another 20 cases to reassign, or you’re going to have to cover another unit because their supervisor left.”

And employees say they know better than anyone the potential consequences of overloaded investigators.

“They’re letting so many years of experience walk out that door,” said a senior-level supervisor. “And the ones who will leave are the ones who stand their ground and do the right thing. Once all those good staff leave, who will be left?”

Morgan Davis' DFPS badge on Wednesday, Apr. 6, 2022.
Many DFPS employees say they feel caught in a tug of war between their ethics and their obligations. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

Few answers available

On a Tuesday in mid-March, a few days after Mulanax testified, hundreds of child welfare investigative supervisors and managers from across the state logged in to a video conference call, eager to get some answers from the department’s leadership.

Several managers said they were surprised to see that DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters wasn’t in attendance.

Instead, Associate Commissioner Rich Richman took the lead. He started by saying the meeting was not going to be “an ass-chewing,” according to several people who attended, and then launched into a criticism of the handling of a separate scandal the agency was facing in connection to allegations of sex trafficking at a state-licensed foster facility in Bastrop.

Abbott’s directive was not the focus of the call, as they’d been hoping, employees who were on the call said.

“We had a whole statewide meeting on something that has literally nothing to do with us instead of the thing that is directly affecting our everyday life,” one supervisor said.

Richman did not address Mulanax’s testimony or the injunction in the gender-affirming care cases. Instead, several people on the call said, he briefly reminded staff that they were to be “neutral fact-finders” in these and all investigations.

When Richman opened up the floor to questions and comments, the staff unloaded, according to chat logs reviewed by the Tribune. They demanded answers on when they were going to be getting more guidance on how to handle cases of gender-affirming care and issued dire warnings about the flood of resignations on the horizon.

“You are losing so many tenured staff and wisdom because this job is just not manageable anymore,” one supervisor wrote.

Another said DFPS leaders “are so out of touch with what your agency does.”

They also aired long-standing gripes about salaries, overtime pay and working conditions.

“As supervisors, we are out here working 60 to 80 hours a week to be supportive of our staff and to keep their heads above water and feel supported,” one supervisor wrote. “We are worn but pushing through, because we love what we do, but not getting overtime or compensation becomes exhausting and discouraging.”

Most of the questions, including those about gender-affirming care cases, went unanswered.

Richman did respond to the money question: According to several people on the call, he encouraged employees to remember they were there for the children, not the money.

“It was also very upsetting because we’ve looked at the salaries of all those higher-ups,” said Mulanax. “It’s pretty, pretty easy to say it’s not about the money when you’re sitting high and tight on over $100,000 a year and you’re not working all this overtime.”

Richman, who was hired in September, earns $150,000 a year.

Evoking children’s welfare felt particularly disingenuous, several people said, when they’d been loudly challenging whether the governor’s directive was really in children’s best interest, to no response.

The meeting was scheduled for 90 minutes, but just before the hour mark, Richman brought it to an end. He said he’d print out the questions in the chat and follow up with employees directly via email. No one who spoke to the Tribune has received a response.

Later that day, the department hosted a similar meeting for lower-level investigators. But this time, the chat function was turned off.

For LGBTQ mental health support, call the Trevor Project’s 24/7 toll-free support line at 866-488-7386. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-8255 or texting 741741.

We can’t wait to welcome you in person and online to the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival, our multiday celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day’s news — all taking place just steps away from the Texas Capitol from Sept. 22-24. When tickets go on sale in May, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/04/11/texas-trans-child-abuse-investigations/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Continue Reading
Click to comment
 
 

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. The New Civil Rights Movement depends on readers like you to meet our ongoing expenses and continue producing quality progressive journalism. Three Silicon Valley giants consume 70 percent of all online advertising dollars, so we need your help to continue doing what we do.

NCRM is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. From unflinching coverage of religious extremism, to spotlighting efforts to roll back our rights, NCRM continues to speak truth to power. America needs independent voices like NCRM to be sure no one is forgotten.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure NCRM remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to NCRM, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

News

Revealed: Trump Paid Off Millions in Secret Debt to North Korea-Linked Company While in Office

Published

on

There is a “chance” Donald Trump didn’t break the law by hiding debt from his 2016 presidential campaign’s financial disclosure reports, according to Forbes.

Documents obtained by the outlet show that the then-candidate failed to disclose $19.8 million in debt to Daewoo, a South Korean company with a history of ties to North Korea.

“There is a chance that Trump’s omission may have been legal,” the report said, noting that Trump may have used a loophole in the law.

“Although officials have to list personal loans on their financial disclosures, the law does not require them to include loans to their companies, unless they are personally liable for the loans. The Trump Organization documents do not specify whether the former president, who owned 100% of the entities responsible for the debt, personally guaranteed the liability, leaving it unclear whether he broke the law or merely took advantage of a loophole.”

Forbes also pointed out that Trump may have hidden the debt because Daewoo, at one time, “was the only South Korean company permitted to operate a business inside [North Korea].”

The documents, which were disclosed after being obtained by New York Attorney General Letitia James, said that Trump quickly eliminated the debt after taking office.

“Daewoo was bought out of its position on July 5, 2017,” one document explained.

ALSO IN THE NEWS: ‘Full steam ahead’ for DOJ after ‘worst legal week that Trump has ever seen’: former prosecutor

Continue Reading

News

‘Big Whop’: Even Right-Wing Critics Are Slamming Elon Musk’s ‘Underwhelming’ Hunter Biden Twitter Escapade

Published

on

Right-wing Twitter users are weighing in to express their disapproval of the so-called bombshell “Twitter files” Elon Musk promised to deliver on Friday, December 2.

According to The Daily Beast, Musk was set to address Twitter’s decision to implement a policy that would restrict headlines and reports about Hunter Biden’s laptop from circulating on the social media platform. However, the leak ended up being a failure for many right-wing experts.

Sebastian Gorka, a right-wing radio host who previously served under the Trump administration, offered a critical response to Musk’s release after journalist Matt Taibbi shared a full Twitter thread about the findings.

READ MORE: Trump plotted to trade Mar-a-Lago files for ‘sensitive documents’ about his 2016 campaign Russia ties: report

“So far, I’m deeply underwhelmed,” Gorka said, adding, “We know the Dems in DC collude with the Dems in Palo Alto [Califonia]. Big Whop.”

He went on to reiterate his arguments when grilled by his far-right followers who were convinced that Musk’s Twitter files were some kind of “smoking gun.”

Per the news outlet: “Responding to a user claiming the Twitter company emails were ‘a clear violation of the 1st Amendment,’ the radio host fired back: ‘Err no, it’s not the DNC asking a private company to censor has nothing to do with the First Amendment.’”

Speaking to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, New York Post columnist Miranda Devine also disapproved of the release. “I feel that Elon Musk has held back some material,” she alleged. According to The Beast, Devine also claimed: “sinister forces were perhaps controlling Musk after the Twitter chief took a meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook earlier in the week.”

READ MORE: Marco Rubio: ‘Not a crime’ to break federal law by taking top secret national security documents from the White House

She added, “In particular, there’s a tweet in which Matt Taibbi says he hasn’t seen any evidence that law enforcement specifically warned off Twitter from our story. But that’s just not correct.”

Free Beacon reporter Joe Simonson also echoed similar sentiments on Twitter. “Twitter files [are] underwhelming so far,” Simonson tweeted. “Just revealing what we already knew: Twitter was staffed by democrats who did the bidding of Democrats.”

READ MORE: Lauren Boebert to file defamation lawsuit against PAC claiming that she was once a ‘paid escort’: report

 

Image by Daniel Oberhaus (2018) via Flickr and a CC license

Continue Reading

News

Fox News Chief Lachlan Murdoch to Be Deposed in $1.6 Billion Dominion Defamation Case

Published

on

Lachlan Murdoch, the executive chairman and CEO of Fox News‘ parent company, Fox Corporation, is set to be deposed next week in a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit. Dominion Voting Systems, which manufactures voting machines, claims the eldest Murdoch son and his father, Rupert Murdoch, have responsibility in Fox News promoting pro-Trump false election fraud claims it says has caused its company harm.

Murdoch is “scheduled to face questions from Dominion’s lawyers on Monday in Los Angeles, according to multiple reports, and will be the highest-ranking official at Fox to be deposed by Dominion,” The Hill reports.

Fox News propagandists Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson have already faced Dominion’s attorneys.

READ MORE: Tucker Carlson’s ‘Nakedly Fascist Propaganda’ Leads to Resignations, Internal Outrage, Public Fury – and a Silent Murdoch

After a federal judge in June ruled the case could move forward, Law & Crime explained, “Dominion’s lawsuit contends that Rupert and his son Lachlan Murdoch personally caused Fox News to broadcast false claims about their role in the 2020 election, even though the Murdochs knew former President Donald Trump’s election fraud narrative was false.”

Rupert Murdoch reportedly spoke with Donald Trump just days after the 2020 presidential election to tell him he had lost.

Judge Eric M. Davis ruled there is “a reasonable inference that Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch either knew Dominion had not manipulated the election or at least recklessly disregarded the truth when they allegedly caused Fox News to propagate its claims about Dominion.”

READ MORE: Fox News Corporate Chief Shrugs Off Complaints of Network’s White Nationalism: ‘Comes With the Territory’

“Dominion has successfully brought home actual malice to the individuals at Fox Corporation who it claims to be responsible for the broadcasts,” Judge Davis added, Law & Crime reported.

A federal judge has rejected Fox News’ First Amendment defense. The case is expected to be argued before a jury early next year.

Continue Reading

Trending

Copyright © 2020 AlterNet Media.