Morgan Davis was an investigator for Texas’ child welfare agency when Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate the parents of transgender children.
Abbott’s order states that giving gender-affirming care to trans children “constitutes child abuse.” Released in late February, it requires teachers, doctors, and nurses to report parents who allow their children to receive this care.
Though a Texas judge has temporarily blocked enforcement, families around Texas are scared and scrambling.
Davis was assigned a case investigating one such family; though he found nothing that resembled abuse, the case is still pending. “I assessed this family as exemplary,” he said. But, Davis added, “I was not allowed to close the case, nor was my supervisor nor was my program director. It was heartbreaking. You want to be the voice that says everything is going to be OK. And honestly I couldn’t say that.”
So Davis, a transgender man, submitted his resignation last week. “I realized that I was doing more harm than good,” Davis told VICE News.
Davis spoke with VICE News about quitting his job, the impact of the last few months on kids in Texas, and how his colleagues have handled the governor’s directive.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
VICE News: Why did you resign from your position as a child protective services investigator in Texas?
Morgan Davis: My reason for leaving is due to the recent directive that came down from our governor ordering investigations into homes of trans kids, specifically targeting gender blockers and any care that they considered alternative or a treatment for gender dysphoria.
The gender blockers, it’s reversible. The therapy is to help them find themselves, but we’ve got to get them there. It was evident that these kids were being targeted, but you hoped and prayed that better angels would prevail and they didn't. These are kids, they're just kids, and that [politicians] would make them political targets is disgusting. All I can do is resign and speak openly.
Recently Texas was up in arms regarding the mask mandate, but asking your child private questions about their medical care and questioning a parent's medical care? That's OK? It’s insane.
I’m openly trans male, and my supervisor had reached out to me and said, ‘You don't have to do this if you don't want to.’ But I accepted it, the thought being it would go away very quickly because it had recently been shot down by our Texas legislature.
I was instructed to go to the family’s home and show them love and respect and to tell that young person that they had done nothing wrong. Our purpose was to get out of their house as quickly as possible and to do as little harm as possible.
Unfortunately, it became very quickly apparent that that was not going to be the case. I was not allowed to close the case, nor was my supervisor nor program director. It was heartbreaking. You want to be the voice that says everything is going to be OK. And honestly I couldn’t say that. I very quickly realized that evening that [the case] was going to be kept open. That became a sore point.
I was informed later that normally my supervisor has the opportunity to make [a judgment call]: If they read a case and think that it has no merit [they] can basically dismiss a case. And that that option was not given regarding these cases specifically, even if they knew there to be no merit.
We want to make sure that wherever we go, we have, for lack of a better word, the moral initiative. We have a huge responsibility. You're coming in to assess the safety of a child. I assessed this family as exemplary. This child is receiving exemplary care, not only from the parents but from a physician and from a therapist.
I realized that I was doing more harm than good. It just seemed at that point that [investigations] were going to continue regardless of medical care, regardless of the caseworkers vehemently coming out in disagreement.
I was very grateful that they had attorneys. But there was a sadness, just an overwhelming sadness. My biggest directive was to tell the child that you are loved and respected and you have done nothing wrong.
But by my presence, this child felt that there was somebody who thought this [investigation] was the right thing to do. It was so surreal and sad because to do this with the problems that we have now—it just was very surreal and very sad.
What has been the reaction to the directive in your unit?
Distraught. You're asking supervisors and caseworkers to go out to homes they know to be safe and that they know that there's no problem, knowing that we are short-staffed.
We have a four-person unit. We have all resigned.
There's not a single person that I know of and is an investigator that is not looking for other employment, and if they are not, there's a reason to be there—they’re a single mother, single father, or dependent upon the health insurance that's provided—and they just haven’t found another job yet.
These are good people who are being asked to do something that they believe to be wrong.
I've got a large caseload and [leaving in May] will give me an opportunity to close as many cases as I can. I was a bit shocked that they've allowed me to do that, but unfortunately we're so short-staffed, I believe that they just need to close the cases. Morale was so low, and then you throw this on top of it—the one thing we had was kind of that we're doing this for the good and can't say that anymore.
Should you believe that abuse is taking place, of course you want to take it seriously, of course. But if you know that abuse is not taking place, and we're treating these people as if it is, what harm are we doing? Especially walking in as a trans man.
How were details of the directive communicated to your unit? How did you talk about them together?
These cases were not made public. At one point I was not allowed to use my email. When I would staff it would either be on my phone or my personal phone. Toward the latter end of this, I would only speak to my supervisor on my personal phone.
Who told you that you had to use your personal phone or not use your email?
My understanding is from my supervisor, but this came from her higher-ups. Their understanding is that our emails were now being audited specifically within the context of looking for correspondence regarding the trans cases. We were told to keep a folder with any correspondence.
It took on a whole other level; it just felt immoral. One of the things that was very important is that we follow protocol at every juncture, but we were then told not to follow protocol.
Documentations for staffings were from my boss' boss, which is unusual unless it's a high-risk or high-profile case. Also, you're not able to track how many cases there are. I found out almost by accident that there was another case and who was on it. And then I found out that there are some units in our building that had no idea we had these cases.
Was your department given any specific training about the directive? What designated abuse in these cases?
No. I asked my supervisor, “Is there anything in writing?” And the only thing they had is Attorney General Ken Paxton’s letter on behalf of the governor. And I’m thinking, ‘OK, why am I here? What am I investigating?’
I had one case where luckily the family had already moved to Colorado because of this mandate. They made the right decision. The child was 17 but had already graduated from high school, had left the state. We don't have jurisdiction, which thank God we didn't. The parents moved to Colorado as well—what a sacrifice.
I'm very fortunate in Travis County. My supervisor was very supportive, which in the South is not always quite the standard.
But what if there's a county or a supervisor that believes this to be true? And sends their caseworker in [and says] I want you to go to the school, I want you to record the child, show up unannounced to the home, all things that are normally done during the course of action of any investigation?
Before all of this, you dealt with actually vulnerable kids in Texas. What more does this mean for them?
It’s taken a lot of wind out of the sails. Caseloads are exploding. One of the program directors I respect pulled me aside and said that she was looking for other employment, and her comment was “because I need to be able to look my son in the face.”
Where do we go from here?
I’m afraid Governor Abbott will win, that this will continue, and unfortunately set precedents. Where does it end? When does it become something that's much bigger, but there's already a precedent set? If we can get their medical records, why can't I have yours? And if you're under age, why did the parents have a right to allow you to have birth control? Where does it stop?
These are kids. And these are vulnerable kids that are already having to deal with being bullied. I started my journey when I was 53 years old. I cannot imagine the bravery to come to your parents, especially in Texas. And then to have parents who are supportive.
The fact that a governor of Texas and an Attorney General, or the Department of Family and Protective Services, is going after vulnerable children knowing that we don't have abuse or neglect that reaches that criteria, knowing that we don't have a directive, knowing that the boots on the ground are saying please shut this down, knowing that they are strapped with caseloads, they're still doing it. And if they're willing to do that, what’s next?
Hendrik Hinzel contributed reporting.