Some workers in Texas Child Protective Services are leaving or considering leaving their jobs after a recent policy went into effect requiring them to investigate instances of parents helping transgender children get gender-affirming care as child abuse. One CPS worker told Courthouse News the investigations were “soul-crushing.”
And the battle over gender-affirming care comes at a time when CPS is already under heavy scrutiny from a federal judge for its handling of children in foster care.
Stephen Paulsen has been following the story for Courthouse News. He tells Texas Standard finding out how many CPS employees have actually quit because of the policy has been difficult to track down, and that the agency has allegedly asked workers to conduct investigations covertly to avoid public scrutiny. Listen to the interview with Paulsen in the audio player above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Tell us a little bit more about Gov. Abbott’s policy that has caused concern among some CPS workers.
Stephen Paulsen: It started on Feb. 18. A conservative lawmaker, Matt Krause, had asked Attorney General [Ken] Paxton for his opinion on when whether gender-affirming care was a form of child abuse. Paxton said yes. A few days later, Gov. Greg Abbott followed up on that opinion, essentially asking state protective workers to investigate families that were providing these gender-affirming forms of care to their kids.
Are there workers who say that they are going to quit? Have there been a number of resignations now? What exactly is happening?
Yes. I spoke to three workers on the record for CPS and Child Protective Investigations, CPI, that basically said they couldn’t continue to work under these new rules. And there were sort of a number of reasons for that. I mean, on the most basic level, a lot of these workers just didn’t feel that giving kids gender-affirming care – these are, you know, cares that are approved by doctors that are backed up by a lot of the medical establishment – they felt that they couldn’t go against doctors and classify these as a form of abuse when doctors say that they’re just standard medical care for transgender kids.
And then on top of that, there were differences, these workers said, in how these kinds of cases were handled. So, for example, typically if an abuse call came in, workers looked into it and [if] there wasn’t adequate allegations of abuse, they could classify it as “priority: none.” In these cases, workers said they weren’t able to downgrade these cases to less serious levels.
There are also some allegations that workers were directed to not speak about these cases, do not handle them on their work phones and work emails, and they speculated that that was sort of a way to try to limit public exposure around these things. So, for example, if a reporter filed a records request seeking some of this information, it wouldn’t be available if a worker was handling these cases on private cell phone, private email. So there were concerns not only about the ethics of the rule itself, but then also how it was being handled and workers losing some of the discretion that they would typically have in these kinds of abuse investigations.
Are there hard numbers for how many CPS workers have actually quit?
I’m actually currently trying to get that. I don’t have anything super set in stone yet. I’ve gotten some data on people who have left the Department of Family and Protective Services – that’s the overarching state agency that runs CPS. So kind of digging into those numbers and [I’m] also going to be requesting data on CPS specifically.
And there are some workers who would like to quit given the circumstances but feel that they can’t because there are so many kids who need the work of CPS, is that right?
Yeah. I’ve definitely heard there are some workers who feel that way. The three that I spoke to on the record, they had all already submitted their resignations and had left the agency or were in the process of leaving the agency. So I think it’s fair to say that for at least quite a few of these workers, it’s just not something that, as one person put it, it was untenable to stay at the agency.
Where does this leave CPS? It already has a shortage of workers, and the state is also under a lot of pressure to improve other problems at the agency.
This is an agency that already was having a lot of issues, and so what the impacts of – I spoke to one supervisor, for example, that had worked there for six years already, on the impacts of people with this kind of experience leaving the agency. I’m not sure that anyone fully knows the impact yet.