Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) leadership instructed staff not to communicate in writing about Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive ordering the agency to investigate families and facilities that provide gender-affirming care for transgender youth, according to emails obtained by American Oversight and reported on by the Texas Tribune.
The records also show that lower-level employees were not authorized to handle such cases, and that staff were forbidden from sharing their opinions of the policy on social media.
In February, Abbott ordered that the provision of such care should be investigated as child abuse, a move condemned by human rights advocates as an attack on the trans community and safe and common gender-affirming health care practices.
In April, American Oversight filed a records request for communications related to the directive, and received more than 900 pages of documents that show the child welfare agency directed staff not to discuss cases related to the directive over email or text, even with the families involved, which previous reporting has suggested was potentially an effort to limit the paper trail.
“If you get any intakes regarding this issue, please immediately CALL ME to staff; no emails or texts are allowed,” a DFPS supervisor with Child Protective Investigations wrote a few days after Abbott’s directive was issued. Staff were also told that they would receive case assignments over the phone, not email or text. In a March 1 email, another supervisor wrote, “Please know that this email is not the platform for opinions or discussion on this topic. If we need to meet privately, my door is always open.”
According to the Tribune, “Getting instructions to not communicate about cases in writing is unusual for DFPS,” as it was a “standard process” to document investigations thoroughly so that the department could “track who was making decisions about each case.”
Emails also indicate that only higher-level staff would be assigned to investigations related to the new directive. “Fyi—if we receive any intakes that pertain to this particular issue they must be escalated up for further guidance and direction,” wrote a DFPS regional director on Feb. 23. The next day, another regional director wrote to agency officials, “I need to know immediately if we receive a case” related to the directive, adding, “We need to ensure our high performing workers are assigned to these cases because there will be a lot of eyes on them.”
Many members of DFPS staff have resigned in response to Abbott’s directive, which the Tribune said has raised fears about what a “mass exodus of experienced child abuse investigators would mean for the state’s most vulnerable children.” The emails obtained by American Oversight include several messages pointing to employees’ distress, such as one Feb. 24 email in which a staff member wrote, “Can we be forced to do this? This is an infringement on civil liberties. … We have trans workers at DFPS, what kind of message are we sending to them?”
Anticipating strong opinions of the controversial new policy, leadership directed employees to refrain from sharing their thoughts on the directive on social media. “Staff need to be clear that as state employees their public/social media opinions must be neutral to non-existent,” wrote one DFPS official on Feb. 25. “Everyone you need to stay off social media with any opinions based on the following,” another supervisor added. “This will get messy.”