“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 email@example.com or Eleanor Klibanoff at firstname.lastname@example.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.”
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
Trump Appears to Think Jeb Bush Was President: ‘He Got Us Into the Middle East’
During a rally in South Carolina on Monday, Donald Trump appeared to confuse former Florida GOP Governor Jeb Bush with his brother, former President George W. Bush, while bragging to supporters how he beat him.
Jeb Bush, who was largely considered to be the default Republican Party nominee for the 2016 presidential election when he launched his campaign, dropped out in February of 2016 after the South Carolina primary.
“When I come here, everyone thought Bush was going to win,” Trump said, before claiming he was “up by about 50 points” over Bush. “They thought Bush because Bush was supposedly a military person.”
“You know what he was…He got us into the Middle East,” Trump claimed, wrongly. “How did that work out?”
“But they also thought that Bush might win. Jeb. Remember Jeb? He used the word ‘Jeb,’ he didn’t use the word ‘Bush,’ I said, ‘You mean he’s ashamed of the last name?’ and then they immediately started using the name Bush,” Trump claimed.
The ex-president went on to continue denigrating Jeb Bush, accusing him of bringing his mother to campaign with him.
“Remember,” Trump said, “he brought his mother, his wonderful mother who’s 94 years old and it was pouring and they’re wheeling her around and it’s raining and horrible. I said, ‘Who would do that your mother, 94 years old. How desperate are you to win?”
Media Matters’ Craig Harrington, commenting on Trump’s latest gaffe, observed: “In the past two weeks, Donald Trump has:
– Warned that Joe Biden might start ‘World War 2’
– Confused his 2016 election opponent (Hillary Clinton) with former President Barack Obama
– Confused his 2016 primary opponent (Jeb Bush) with former President George W. Bush.”
Watch the video below or at this link.
Trump: When I come here, everyone thought Bush was going to win… They thought Bush because he was supposedly a military person. He got us into the Middle East pic.twitter.com/lT8OVvg76H
— Acyn (@Acyn) September 25, 2023
Fulton County Judge in Trump Case Orders Jurors’ Identities and Images Must Be Protected
The Fulton County Superior Court judge presiding over Georgia’s RICO, conspiracy, and election interference case against Donald Trump on Monday afternoon ordered the identities and images of all jurors and prospective jurors to remain secret, ordering they may only be referred to by a number.
“No person shall videotape, photograph, draw in a realistic or otherwise identifiable manner, or otherwise record images, statements, or conversations of jurors/prospective jurors in any manner” that would violate a Superior Court rule, Judge Scott McAfee ordered, “except that the jury foreperson’s announcement of the verdict or questions to the judge may be audio recorded.”
“Jurors or prospective jurors shall be identified by number only in court filings or in open court,” he added.
Judge McAfee also ordered no juror’s or prospective juror’s identity, “including names, addresses, telephone numbers, or identifying employment information” may be revealed.
MSNBC’s Katie Phang posted the order, and added: “Another important part of the Order: no responses from juror questionnaires or notes about jury selection shall be disclosed, unless permitted by the Court.”
Judge McAfee’s order comes after Donald Trump’s weekend of attacks on his former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley. Trump strongly suggested he should be executed for treason. Trump also strongly suggested he would target Comcast, NBC News, and MSNBC if he wins the 2024 presidential election.
Responding to the news, MSNBC’s Medhi Hasan observed, “We have just normalized the fact that the former president, and GOP presidential frontrunner, is basically a mob boss.”
‘Isn’t Glock a Good Gun?’ Trump Asks Before Saying He Is Buying One – Campaign Forced to Deny He Did
During a photo shoot at a South Carolina gun shop, Donald Trump posed with and then said he wanted to buy a Glock, asking if it is “a good gun.”
Some say it might be illegal to sell a gun to anyone under criminal indictment, and if he took the gun with him that too might be illegal. It was not clear if, despite saying he would, he actually bought the firearm. The Trump campaign initially said he had, although later backtracked on its claim, and deleted the social media post saying he had.
In the photo op (video below,) Trump posed with several people, including the Republican Attorney General of South Carolina, Alan Wilson, who has held that elected position since 2011.
“Trump’s spokesman announced that Trump bought a Glock today in South Carolina. He even posted video,” wrote former Chicago Tribune editor Mark Jacob. “If Trump took the gun with him, that’s a federal crime since he’s under indictment. There’s also a law against selling a gun to someone under federal indictment like Trump.”
Reuters’ crime and justice reporter Brad Heath posted the federal laws that might apply, as well as Trump’s campaign spokesperson’s clip of the ex-president’s remarks, and his spokesperson saying, “President Trump purchases a @GLOCKInc in South Carolina!”
18 U.S.C. § 922(d)(1) makes it a federal crime to sell a firearm to a person who is under felony indictment.
And 18 U.S.C. § 922(n) makes it a federal crime for a person under indictment to ship or transport a firearm. https://t.co/CYuMtgAMo5
— Brad Heath (@bradheath) September 25, 2023
CNN analyst Stephen Gutowski, who writes about gun policy, added, “It would be a crime for him to actually buy this gun because he’s under felony indictment. Did he actually go through with this purchase?”
“People under felony indictments can’t ‘receive’ new firearms. That also means you can’t buy them,” he also wrote.
MSNBC anchor and legal contributor Katie Phang wrote, “I don’t know if he actually bought the gun. At least it didn’t happen in this video. Also, the Attorney General of South Carolina is in this video. Is he watching Trump commit a crime?”
But some pointed to a federal judge in Texas’ ruling from last year. Reuters reported, a “federal law prohibiting people under felony indictment from buying firearms is unconstitutional.”
Watch the video below or at this link.
“I want to buy one.”
— Indicted former President Donald Trump while admiring a Glock at a campaign stop in South Carolina. A Trump spokesperson later said he purchased the gun, which would be an apparent violation of federal law. pic.twitter.com/UN05jcGhMH
— The Recount (@therecount) September 25, 2023
- News2 days ago
‘Scared to Death’: Trump’s Prison Panic Admission Means He Knows He’s Doomed Says Legal Expert
- News1 day ago
Pete Buttigieg Nails Trump for His Ugly Comments About Wounded Vets
- News8 hours ago
‘Careening’ Toward ‘Risk of Political Violence’: Experts Sound Alarm After Trump Floats Executing His Former General
- News10 hours ago
‘It Won’t Fare Well’: Legal Expert Trashes Trump’s Hopes for ‘Hail Mary’ Appeal This Week
- News7 hours ago
‘Height of Irresponsibility’: Top LGBTQ Civil Rights Group Slams House Republicans Over Shutdown and ‘Politics of Hate’
- News5 hours ago
‘Poof’: White House Mocks Stunned Fox News Host as GOP’s Impeachment Case Evaporates on Live Air
- News3 hours ago
‘Isn’t Glock a Good Gun?’ Trump Asks Before Saying He Is Buying One – Campaign Forced to Deny He Did
- News1 hour ago
Fulton County Judge in Trump Case Orders Jurors’ Identities and Images Must Be Protected