The Texas agency tasked with investigating child abuse claims has resumed some investigations into the parents of transgender youths despite a recent court decision that advocates said should have led to the cases’ being closed.
Two weeks ago, the Texas Supreme Court lifted part of an injunction that had temporarily blocked nine investigations, leaving it in place for only one family. The court also said Gov. Greg Abbott doesn’t have the authority to direct the Department of Family and Protective Services to open the investigations.
Civil rights advocates said the court’s decision meant that the department’s Child Protective Services Division should close the investigations, because Texas law doesn’t include gender-affirming medical care as child abuse and Abbott’s directive isn’t enforceable.
But state Attorney General Ken Paxton, who in February issued a legal opinion that declared such care to be abuse, prompting Abbott’s directive, disagreed. Following the court’s decision, he tweeted that he had “secured a win for families against the gender ideology of doctors, big pharma, clinics trying to ‘trans’ confused, innocent children.”
Parents who were under investigation waited anxiously to hear from the Department of Family and Protective Services after the decision.
The Dallas Morning News reported Thursday that investigations were set to resume after it received a statement from the department, which it reported didn’t specifically mention the investigations into the parents of transgender youths.
“DFPS treats all reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation seriously and will continue to investigate each to the full extent of the law,” the department said. The agency sent the same statement to NBC News on Thursday in response to an inquiry about the investigations related to gender-affirming medical care.
L., a mom who lives in Austin, told NBC News in March that the state had opened an investigation into her after it received “multiple reports of abuse” regarding the care she provided to her transgender son before he turned 18 in February and left for college in another state. The agent told her the department could investigate retroactively if the alleged abuse occurred before the child turned 18.
L., whose lawyer recommended that she go by an initial instead of her full name to protect her family’s privacy, said that her lawyer reached out to the department after the decision and that an agent said her investigation was still open but that it had been paused.
Then, she said, after she drove her son to work Monday afternoon, she got a call from a new agent, who said L.’s case was going back to being “active” and “that they had new allegations.”
“She was very angry,” L. said of the agent, adding that she said: “I know you did this. I’m just letting you know we’re aware of it.”
L. said that the agent asked her what she had to say about the new allegations and that she directed the agent to her lawyer, who she said is supposed to be the agency’s point of contact for her case.
“I think they’re trying to make an example of me, because I’m a social worker, too,” L. said. “So it’s more about the career. You can’t take my kid. He’s 18. He can live wherever he wants.”
She said her reaction to the agent’s call was “this, again?”
“I really, honestly thought we were going to get closed out pretty quick or they would just leave it pending to see how this court case goes, but apparently, nope,” she said. “This is really messed up.”
L., who works with families who have children under the state’s care because the families experienced homelessness, said she wishes the state would spend its time trying to reunite those families.
Ian Pittman, a lawyer based in Austin who represents two other families under investigation, said in an email Tuesday that one of his clients also got a call from the Department of Family and Protective Services on Thursday.
He said that if the department followed the law, it would assign cases opened under Abbott’s directive “priority none” and close them.
Before Abbott’s directive and Paxton’s opinion, child welfare workers would assign “priority none” to any intake related to a parent or a guardian authorizing gender-affirming care that was prescribed by a doctor or a mental health care provider “and administratively close these intakes without investigation,” Pittman said, citing sworn testimony department employees gave at a hearing in March.
He said the Texas Supreme Court declared Paxton’s opinion and Abbott’s directive unenforceable, meaning employees should follow the law as it was before the orders.
Justice Jimmy Blacklock wrote, “The Governor and the Attorney General were certainly well within their rights to state their legal and policy views on this topic, but DFPS was not compelled by law to follow them.”
Pittman said that as a result, “any investigations that were opened on the basis of the invalid directive/opinion should be closed, with the allegations of abuse or neglect ruled out, and any further intakes received on the basis of the invalid directive/opinion should be assigned ‘priority none’ and closed without investigation.”
Investigations into families like L.’s have created more controversy for an already embattled Texas agency. More than a half-dozen Child Protective Services employees told The Texas Tribune last month that they were looking for new jobs or had resigned as a result of Abbott’s directive.