AUSTIN (KXAN) — Kelly Morgan Davis put his two week notice in with Child Protective Services this week. Davis, a transgender man who started his transition last year, says he “couldn’t morally continue” in the role after having to investigate the family of a transgender child under a directive from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott which says parents and doctors can face abuse investigations for transgender healthcare.
Davis says in Travis County, supervisors have been uniquely empathetic, but still, turnover is incredibly high, he said. Caseworkers usually have roughly 15 cases to manage, but are now facing 35-45 cases at a time — a product of understaffing and juggling state directives, Davis said.
“You have caseworkers calling in sick just because they need a break,” he explained. On top of the overwhelming case load, Davis says the problem is being compounded by the most recent directive from the governor, which targets trans youth and their families.
In a letter sent in February, the governor directed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services “to conduct prompt and thorough investigations of any reported instances of Texas children being subjected to abusive gender-transitioning procedures.” His letter stated doctors and nurses could face punishments for failing to report such care and mentioned that DFPS should look into parents who pursue it for their kids.
The directive from Abbott follows Attorney General Ken Paxton issuing a 13-page legal opinion on Feb. 18 in which he argued that certain gender-affirming “procedures and treatments…when performed on children, can legally constitute child abuse” under Texas Family Code. In a news release publicizing this opinion, Paxton said in a statement, “I’ll do everything I can to protect against those who take advantage of and harm young Texans.”
One of those cases landed on Davis’ desk. Though given the option to recuse himself, Davis said he wanted the family being investigated to see a friendly face, someone to say, “you’re perfect and beautiful.”
“In my case, it was an exemplary family. Exemplary. The kind of family you wish and pray that every case we had, would have,” Davis said. But despite the caseload CPS workers are facing, Davis said the case wasn’t dropped, despite his findings that no abuse or neglect had taken place.
“All we do is protect children, that’s all we’re supposed to do. And then we’re genuinely in a path to hurt and, or terrify families,” he said. “To tell them anything else other than to walk into that home and applaud them is unthinkable.”
Davis said the state’s targeting of transgender families is just another political directive bogging down caseworkers at a time when they’re already jumping around “to the next biggest fire,” allowing some cases to fall through the cracks.
That’s also trickling down to other departments, Travis County staff testified this week. Leslie Hill, the managing attorney for the Office of Child Representation (OCR), said the county office that represents children involved in CPS cases in court, is taking on more work as a product of CPS losing workers and “institutional memory.”
“That creates instability in our cases and for our clients,” Hill said. “They’re in a crisis that is beyond any level of crisis I have ever seen on this docket, I’ve been working on this docket since 2006.”
This week, the Texas Tribune reported more than half a dozen child abuse investigators have resigned or are actively looking for a job as a result of the state directive. Davis is one of those people who has decided this directive from the state of Texas was the final straw.
“What I’m being told to do is wrong,” Davis said. “They [transgender youth] are talented and intelligent and will make the most amazing adults, and that’s all we’re begging for, these beautiful children to get the opportunity to be beautiful adults. That’s it.”
DFPS also provided KXAN information about Child Protective Investigations staff and said 1,805 have resigned from the beginning of January 2021 to April 6 this year. A total of 310 people resigned January through March 2021, compared to 326 for that same time period in 2022.
KXAN reached out to DFPS earlier this week for a statement on the recent resignations to which DFPS replied:
“In all investigations we follow state law to determine if abuse or neglect has occurred, and we will continue to do so.”