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Texas Child Abuse Investigators Told to Make Transgender Cases a Priority

HOUSTON — Child abuse investigators in Texas have been told to prioritize cases involving the parents of transgender children and to investigate them without exception, after the state’s governor ordered certain medical care to be treated as abuse, an investigations supervisor said during a court hearing on Friday.

The supervisor, Randa Mulanax of the Department of Family and Protective Services, testified that the agency was not given the freedom to determine that a given report involving a transgender child was likely not in fact a case of child abuse — so-called “priority none” status — and that investigators were not able to close the cases.

“I’ve been told about that directly,” said Ms. Mulanax, who has submitted her resignation to the department. “You cannot priority-none these cases.”

According to Ms. Mulanax, reports of parents possibly providing puberty-blockers, hormones or other medically accepted treatments to their transgender children were being handled differently from other reports of child abuse. In addition to investigating them without exception, she said, the agency’s staff was told to not put anything about the cases in writing.

“These are not being treated the same,” Ms. Mulanax said during the hearing on Friday in a state district court in Austin. “We had to be investigating these cases.”

Ms. Mulanax’s testimony came at the start of a hearing on Friday, in front of Judge Amy Clark Meachum in Travis County, over whether investigations into families with transgender children should be halted statewide.

The case began with a legal challenge last week by the parents of a 16-year-old transgender girl. The parents were among the first to be investigated under Gov. Greg Abbott’s order, which directed state officials to start abuse investigations into parents who provide hormones or puberty-suppressing drugs to their transgender children. The teenager’s mother, an employee of the family protective agency, has remained anonymous in court filings, and is referred to only as Jane Doe.

Wearing a wig and glasses, the mother testified on Friday about the details of the investigation into her family and the emotional toll it has taken on them.

Judge Meachum temporarily stopped the investigation into the family last week, but allowed others in the state to continue while she considered broader action.

The plaintiffs in the case, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, sought a statewide injunction against the new investigations, arguing that the governor’s order was improperly adopted and violated the state constitution, as well as the rights of the parents and their transgender children.

Ms. Mulanax, a witness for the plaintiffs, described a virtual meeting of senior leaders last month in which they discussed the handling of investigations under the governor’s order, which was issued on Feb. 22. She said she and others were told not to put information about the cases in email or text messages — instructions that she said were highly unusual in her years of experience at the agency.

“Have you ever been told not to put information on cases in writing?” asked Brian Klosterboer, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.

“No,” she said.

“What did you make of the instruction to not put anything in writing?”

“It was very unethical,” said Ms. Mulanax.

The state Department of Family and Protective Services has struggled for years to care for children in its foster care system and to conduct investigations into child abuse.

The agency has been the subject of a decade-old federal lawsuit over its foster care system, in which children faced abuse as well as long waits to be adopted or placed in safer homes. Federal monitors have been overseeing the implementation of judicial orders since 2019, among them a directive to improve the handling and investigation of reported child abuse.

A federal court held an emergency hearing on Thursday, unrelated to the fight over transgender children, regarding a report of an agency employee who has been accused of sex trafficking, abuse and neglect of children at a foster care facility in Bastrop, Texas, that is under contract to the state. Mr. Abbott called the report “abhorrent” in a statement, and said that “child abuse of any kind won’t be tolerated in the state of Texas.”

During cross-examination at the hearing on Friday, a lawyer for the state said that Ms. Mulanax’s job at the agency was to apply the law regarding child abuse, which the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, had determined in a nonbinding legal opinion included medical treatments for transgender youth.

The state’s lawyer, Courtney Corbello, asked whether any major steps had been taken as a result of the investigations into parents of transgender children. Had any child been taken away from their parents, she asked.

“To my knowledge, no,” Ms. Mulanax responded.

Had a child been taken off medication prescribed by a doctor?

“I’m not aware of that,” she said.

Ms. Mulanax said that she had decided to resign because of the governor’s order. “I have always felt that the department has the children’s best interest at heart,” she said. “I no longer feel that way with this order.”

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