AUSTIN (KXAN) — Kelly Morgan Davis put her two weeks notice with child protective services this week. Davis, a transgender man who began transitioning last year, says he “morally could not continue” in the role after having to investigate the family of a transgender child under a directive from the governor of Texas Greg Abbott who says parents and doctors can face abuse investigations for transgender health care.
Davis says that in Travis County, supervisors have been particularly empathetic, but even so, turnover is incredibly high, he said. Social workers typically have about 15 cases to handle, but are now dealing with 35 to 45 cases at a time — a product of understaffing and juggling state guidelines, Davis said.
“You have social workers calling in sick just because they need a break,” he explained. In addition to the overwhelming workload, Davis says the problem is compounded by the governor’s latest directive, which targets trans youth and their families.
In a letter sent in February, the governor ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services “to conduct prompt and thorough investigations into all reported cases of Texan children subjected to abusive gender transition procedures.” His letter said doctors and nurses could be punished for failing to report such care and mentioned that DFPS should review parents who sue him for their children.
Abbott’s directive follows Attorney General Ken Paxton’s release of a 13-page legal opinion on Feb. 18 in which he argued that certain “gender affirming procedures and treatments…when practiced on children, may legally constitute child abuse” under the Texas Family Code. In a press release publicizing this opinion, Paxton said in a statement, “I will do everything I can to protect myself from those who benefit and harm young Texans.”
One such case landed on Davis’s desk. Although he was given the opportunity to recuse himself, Davis said he wanted the family under investigation to see a friendly face, someone to say, “you are perfect and beautiful.”
“In my case, it was an exemplary family. Copy. The kind of family you wish and pray for every case we’ve had, has,” Davis said. But despite the workload facing CPS workers, Davis said the case has not been dropped, despite his findings that no abuse or neglect took place.
“All we do is protect children, that’s all we’re supposed to do. And then we are genuinely on the path to hurting and/or terrifying families,” he said. “It is unthinkable to tell them anything other than to come into this house and applaud them.”
Davis said the state’s targeting of transgender families is just another policy directive bogging down social workers at a time when they’re already jumping “to the next biggest fire,” allowing some cases to pass between meshes of the net.
It spills over to other departments as well, Travis County staff said this week. Leslie Hill, general counsel for the Office of Children’s Representation (OCR), said the county office which represents children involved in CPS cases in court is taking on more work due to the loss of workers and the “institutional memory” of the PSC.
“It creates instability in our cases and for our clients,” Hill said. “They are in a crisis that exceeds any level of crisis I have ever seen on this file, I have been working on this file since 2006.”
This week, the Texas Tribune reported that more than half a dozen child abuse investigators have quit or are actively seeking employment as a result of the state directive. Davis is one of those people who decided that this Texas state directive 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 ask for, these beautiful children to have the opportunity to be beautiful adults. That’s it.”
KXAN reached out to DFPS earlier this week for a statement on recent resignations to which DFPS responded:
“In all investigations, we follow state law to determine whether abuse or neglect has occurred, and we will continue to do so.”