Texas reopens investigation into parents of trans children, family lawyers confirm

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The Texas Child Protection Agency has resumed at least some of its investigations into parents who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children. Last week, the state Supreme Court lifted an injunction that prevented the state from investigating these parents for child molestation.

SEE ALSO: Texas Supreme Court Allows Investigations into Child Abuse in Families of Transgender Teens to Continue

On Thursday, almost a week after the verdict, investigators with the Texas Department of Family and Protection Services began contacting attorneys representing some of those families to let them know they will continue the investigation.

“They came back and said they needed to complete their investigation,” said Tracy Harting, an Austin-based attorney representing a family in the central Texas area. “I’ve spoken to my customers and now they have to decide how to proceed.”

Ian Pittman, an Austin attorney representing a family in central Texas and a family in north Texas, said he heard from a DFPS worker Thursday about the reopening of one of those cases — but has yet to receive an update on the other.

Both Pittman and Harting said their clients had been preparing for this since the state Supreme Court vacated the injunction last Friday. But the same ruling that made those investigations possible also raised questions about whether they should have opened in the first place.

Those cases began in February after Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a non-binding legal opinion equating certain medical treatments and procedures for transgender teenagers with child abuse. Citing this opinion, Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to DFPS directing the agency to investigate parents providing gender-affirming care to their transgender children.

SEE ALSO: Texas Children’s Hospital halts hormone-related prescription therapies for transgender children

In a statement in response to the February order, DFPS said it will “follow Texas law,” as set forth in Paxton’s opinion, “(i) in accordance with the direction of Governor Abbott.” The agency then launched at least nine investigations into parents of transgender children.

But the Supreme Court ruling said that while Abbott and Paxton “were within their rights to voice their legal and political views on the matter … DFPS had no legal obligation to follow them.”

“However, DFPS’ press statement indicates that DFPS may have considered itself bound by either the governor’s letter, the attorney general’s opinion, or both. Again, nothing before this court supports the notion that DFPS is so bound,” the ruling said.

This ruling left the ball in the court of the DFPS to decide whether and how to proceed with the ongoing investigation. On Thursday, the department said only that the agency “takes seriously all reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation and will continue to investigate each case to the fullest extent of the law.”

But as the Supreme Court ruling explained, nothing in Paxton’s opinion or Abbott’s policy changed the legal definition of abuse or neglect to include gender-affirming care prescribed by a doctor.

Lawyers and the families they represent are waiting to see what happens when these cases resume.

“The question now is, will the commissioner be an expert on child protection law or a politician?” Harting asked. “Are they going to close these cases or are they going to give hell to these families?”

Impact on families

At least nine families are being investigated for providing gender-affirming care for their children. These investigations included home visits, family interviews and, in some cases, surprise visits to children’s schools.

“It’s not just nameless, faceless people that are affected,” Pittman said. “They’re normal, everyday people doing what’s right for their kids.”

But since the initial spate of investigative activity, cases have stagnated due to the nationwide injunction, but no investigations have been launched. Lawyers for the families allege that this violates department guidelines on several fronts.

Child Protective Services policy requires a case worker to make face-to-face contact with the children whose parents are being screened at least every 45 days, which several lawyers say has not happened in their cases.

When parents being investigated for child abuse or neglect request status updates on their cases, state regulations require the department to respond within 14 days. Emails provided by Pittman show him asking for clarification on the status on April 1 and April 21 on behalf of one of the families he represents, with no response from the department.

Pittman said he has spoken with his clients about taking legal action against the department for violating its policies in these cases. Though he believes they have a case, he also understands that his clients have already witnessed the state’s full legal firepower aimed squarely at them.

“The state has basically unlimited resources, while these families just don’t,” he said. “We have seen what they did with the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) lawsuit by appealing to the Circuit Court of Appeals and even to the Supreme Court (Texas). That could take months or years and tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.”

SEE ALSO: ACLU sues Texas for implementing “lawless and dangerous new policies” on transgender children

Your next legal step is likely to be influenced by the agency’s next administrative steps.

“I tell people, God and CPS, they’re the two entities that have the power to give you children and take them away, so this investigation is a big deal,” Harting said. “These families have a right to due process.”

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates and collaborates with Texans on public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

https://abc13.com/texas-investigation-trans-children-overturned-injunction/11874649/ Texas reopens investigation into parents of trans children, family lawyers confirm

Dais Johnston

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