A Caseworker Quits Over Texas’ Trans Kids Policy

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S1: Morgan Davis is an investigator for Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. He says part of his job is to make sure that the children living in the homes he investigates feel like someone is watching out for them.

S2: Just to have a friendly face walking in the home and saying, I see you were loved, you are respected and you have done nothing wrong for any child.

S1: Morgan is a transgender man. He says he wanted to work for a child welfare agency so that he could be the kind of advocate he never had when he was growing up.

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S2: If you look different or you feel different and you know, for myself, I’ve always, always looked like a little boy. Although I was born a gender female, I always look like a little boy. And so oftentimes there will be bullying. You oftentimes feel isolated or scared. And to have an adult be able to look you in the face and say, see you, you’re going to be okay. I got you. It would have been the world.

S1: In February, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a new directive ordering Morgan’s agency to investigate the homes of children whose doctors have prescribed medical treatments that trans advocates describe as gender affirming care. Governor Abbott described these treatments, including ones that can be reversed as sex change procedures, and he categorized them as a form of child abuse. This new directive followed a proposed Texas bill limiting which bathrooms trans children could use, and another proposed bill limiting which sports teams trans children could join. So for Morgan Davis, this was yet another declaration from his state government that seemed designed to make life difficult for those kids. Morgan hope this latest move was maybe just political bluster that would blow over without having any real world effect.

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S2: But within 24 hours, I had a case on my desk, so that was a bit of a shock.

S1: Morgan took that case and met with that family. Then he submitted his resignation. The governor’s directive has since been frozen by a legal injunction. Some families with trans children have begun to flee the state, not waiting around to see if the directive will be upheld. Meanwhile, Morgan still at work, wrapping up his existing caseload before he leaves his job next month. He was Southern, polite to us, calling my producer and me ma’am and sir. He also spoke in hushed tones. He was talking to us from inside the Child Protective Services Building. Do you feel like you might pay a price for speaking out like this?

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S2: Yes, sir. There has been a fear of retaliation, and it truly is. All right. I’ve been telling everybody I’m an adult. I am for me. I’m going to be fine. I’m proud to do this genuinely, because I always joke if this is the hill I go out on, I more than glad to do that.

S1: Today on the show, Morgan Davis moral dilemma in texas and what he would say to governor greg abbott if he could. I’m Seth Stevenson filling in for Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick around. Let’s talk about the first case that came across your desk as part of this new directive. Your supervisors offered to reassign that case. Why did you decide to take it?

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S2: I felt like if anybody was going to take that case, that it should be me. I’m in a very unique position that I have. I have not. Not as a youth. My transition and began about a year ago. And so as an adult, what was able to speak to medical professionals who have treated youth for decades. And the home I was allowed to walk into was exemplary. These parents had an impeccable job.

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S1: What was it like for you as as a trans man to meet with that family?

S2: It was tough because when initially I was allowed to speak to the parent, it would just felt an overwhelming sadness, especially with parents that are just trying to take care of their child and have done so brilliantly. But then having to come into their home as an agent of the state and question them regarding that care. So I think there was also a fear, definitely, and just fear and sadness.

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S1: What happened on your visit? What kinds of things did you talk to them about?

S2: On this visit. I was so grateful they had hired attorneys for the parents and for the child, which I thought was brilliant. The norm is not for CPS to come into your life. And so when they do, especially in this case, when you know that the family has done nothing wrong, the attorneys present were able to guide the investigation to keep this family safe. So you go in as an investigator and you assess the home for safety. An example would be being allowed to walk around the home and seeing, you know, proper bedding. Is there proper food? You know, do you have water? But these attorneys were quite brilliant and knew right off the bat that I would be asking for releasing information to the child’s medical records and immediately refused. And then when certain questions. We have a what is called a global interview. And many of the questions like, how do you discipline your child? The child’s medical care? May I get the name of the doctor immediately? These questions were shot down, but I was very grateful that the attorneys were present. And yet there was an ad litem for the child and that they were able to get the interview to a safe conclusion.

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S1: Did you file a report in that case?

S2: Yes. This case was treated much differently. All the documentation was in real time. Oftentimes, we have about 24 hours dinner. It was in real time. One thing that was different as well, my instructions that evening that the case would not be closed, that it would be staffed with the higher ups. And that point was a bit shocking because in cases involving the higher ups, the single case I’ve ever had that has that has been the case. It was a child death case. All other cases. Usually my supervisor will say, close it or I’ll staff it with my her higher up and then close it. So that evening, the first indication that this was going to be treated differently was when I had to go back into the home and let the family know that the case would not be closed, but that it would be staffed the following week.

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S1: Do you know what’s going on with that family now?

S2: Sir, unfortunately, I’m not allowed to speak to it. I have not had contact with the family since the initial interview and have been directed not to have contact. But I hope someday to see them when this is all over. And tell them to please tell them we’re fighting for them with boots on the ground to try to end this.

S1: You decided to resign shortly after handling that case. Why did you decide to resign?

S2: You know, I. I did this job to protect children, and that’s part of our mission statement. When it became clear that I was being asked to go into homes that I knew to be safe, based solely for a political directive and to continue cases that I knew should be closed based on no medical evidence to the contrary, I just am morally, I couldn’t do it. It just it felt like a betrayal.

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S1: I think several of your colleagues have also resigned. Have you talked to them about their decisions?

S2: Yes. And speaking to people who thought that they would retire in these jobs and with a great deal of pride in the work that they’ve done and to feel betrayed by the very department that they dedicated their lives to. It’s just it is heartbreaking, but it’s also I’m very proud of them personally because they’re taking a stance that sort of you mentioned retaliation. I am a little bit nervous for them, but I’m very grateful to them because they are taking their they’re taking a stand. Because also, if there was a concern, if this is only the starting point, where does it end? You know, this is sucking so much area of the department when we have real problems. You know, we are ripe for a tragedy in that the case loads are unmanageable and are not able to get to all the children who truly do need us, who truly need us, because this has taken a toll.

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S1: What’s your sense of the current mood at your agency?

S2: I will say genuinely in our office, if people are not looking for other jobs, they are actively trying to transfer to look for other jobs. Currently in my unit in a little bit there’ll be one person left and that’s me. And then I’m leaving and people are distraught. The morale is incredibly low. You know, sir, this is an agency that had had gone through the pandemic. These are caseworkers that were boots on the ground during the pandemic. And when kids were back in school and having, unfortunately, the abuse and neglect that had taken place over those two years and then to be asking these same workers to work directly against the child’s best interests is just it’s it’s unfathomable. But it’s happening.

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S1: More from my conversation with Morgan Davis after the break. You talked about some ways that these cases are getting handled differently than other cases. One way a case like this is being handled differently was the sense of secrecy. Did you feel like people were trying to keep this off the books in a way?

S2: I did. I’m not really sure how many cases have been filed in the state of Texas, even asking that question directly, like how many cases have been filed? Or will we receive more cases? And they’re comment back to me was you’ll know if you get one because it is currently under appeal with the Texas State Supreme Court. The cases are just being held. But even when in the district court, when they filed the injunction against the directive and the appeals court and they filed the injunction against the directive, we were still not allowed to close them in my particular case, but it was already ruled that they did not believe patient neglect to have occurred and had requested on multiple occasions to close it. And the answer was no. And I’ve never had a case where I was not allowed to contact the family. We also have a policy that every 45 days a child is saying, I was told not to contact the family and that we will miss that deadline, which is against policy if they truly believe, sir, that abuse and neglect has occurred. I do not believe this is the course of action they would take.

S1: In your understanding what kind of treatments would fall under the category of gender affirming care?

S2: Based on my experience for the youth. It could, you know, therapy. Oftentimes it genuinely for affirming care. Hypothetically, if you were a female, you would present more masculine or you would wear clothes that you would perceive more masculine. You would explore that way, or you could possibly be prescribed gender blockers, which are reversible. You know, we always say you want these beautiful children to get the chance to be beautiful adults. And so the care they’re receiving is to guide them to what decision they will make as an adult. There was a concern regarding a child taking estrogen or testosterone. I don’t know. In all cases, the majority of cases, that is not the case. There will be gender blockers which have to be prescribed by a doctor, but they are reversible. So the care being given is to guide them to the next decision. Ironically, what we’re doing is building a set of circumstances that these parents will have to, if their child is saying to them, I need help. I’d rather commit suicide and live. Because we’ve now cut that off. You know, I think one of the largest hospitals here in Texas is now stating they will no longer provide gender affirming care. So you’re shutting off the avenues these parents have who are responsible and trying to get medical care legitimately for their child will now be ironically put in the position where they will have to illegally seek out help.

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S1: I think your office’s policy prior to this directive was that they wouldn’t investigate a case where a parent is giving medication to a child that’s been prescribed by a doctor. Have you talked to any doctors who prescribe these kinds of treatments about whether they have thoughts about this policy?

S2: Yes, sir. You know, it just feels like this is a different era. I hope it’s alright to say that I receive medical care every three months. I’ve seen my doctor for bloodwork every three months and so in speaking to them with frightening is when you call now, they’re they don’t even say their name. There’s a fear. Just a genuine fear. It’s incomprehensible that someone, myself, I lose myself as an Apple store. I have no medical background. And so for me to question a doctor with decades of medical experience with children, I mean, it’s it is heartbreaking also, sir, because they are doctors and nurses and they are mandated reporters. And if they don’t report, they could lose their license, their livelihood. It just breaks your heart, because these are two good people trying to do a good thing and get children care. So these beautiful kids can be beautiful adults and they’re being stymied. I mean, how many times in our lives can we say that there was a medical need that was meant for children? That’s effective. That’s keeping them with us. But. Because of someone’s personal belief. As an agent of the state, I’m going to go in and say, stop. And so that’s why when people ask me why I resign, I say morally it was inevitable.

S1: What do you plan to do after you leave your job?

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S2: I very much want to stay and tell advocacy, and I pray that they let me. I do know the fear of retaliation, but I very much want to stay in child advocacy. I truly feel like it’s a calling.

S1: There’s currently an injunction on this directive. How do you see it playing out down the road? Is this going to be how things are done now? Will the injunction be lifted? What what kind of reckoning is there eventually going to be with this policy?

S2: Fortunately, it looks like that. They’re not quite sure what the Texas State Supreme Court will do. The hope is that they will keep the injunction, but it’s already kind of been whispered that the appeal has already been set. If they do that, it will go to the Supreme Court. And I know it’s a silly hope, but I hope it does, because then it can be shut down completely. We’ve got real problems, real big problem that, you know, we have sex trafficking, we have abuse and neglect. For this to be a platform that they stand on is unthinkable. But unfortunately, it looks like it will go to the Supreme Court. But in that time period, we still have a case. These cases are open and this family will be in limbo for what could last up to two years. But it doesn’t seem that this is the end. It just seems like it almost seems like this is just a gateway. And it’s sad that they consider kids to be the most vulnerable to open that door, which is sickening.

S1: What would you say to Governor Abbott if you got a meeting with him?

S2: Please stop this, please. And he has to be a good man. He’s dedicated his life to public service. Please, just listen to me. Please listen to your. And listen to the medical professionals. Listen to. The people, the boots on the ground that are telling you, listen to him, an old man. Just man to man. Please don’t ask. She’s. These kids deserve better. They have earned it tenfold. They have been bullied and they are beautiful and they are targeted and they are exemplary and they should be applauded by the governor’s office. Let these beautiful kids, they beautiful adults.

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S1: Morgan Davis, thank you so much for coming on the show.

S2: Thank you so much for what you’re doing.

S1: Morgan Davis is an investigator in the Travis County office of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. His resignation is effective next month. And that’s the show. What next is produced by Mary Wilson Alina Schwartz and Carmel Delshad. We’re getting a ton of help from Anna Rubanova. We are led by our executive producer, Joanne Levine, and by Alicia montgomery. I’m Seth Stevenson, filling in for Mary Harris. Catch you back in this feed tomorrow.