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DFPS says it will comply with Abbott, Paxton push to investigate transition procedures as child abuse

The DFPS said there are not currently any cases as described in Paxton's Monday opinion.

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in his official capacity as the chief legal officer for the State, said on Monday that certain child gender modification procedures should be treated as abuse.

The opinion claims Texas law counts puberty blockers and other medical procedures to change a child’s sex as “abuse” under section 261.001 of the Texas Family Code.

A day after Paxton's announcement, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a letter to the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) directing the agency to conduct "prompt and thorough" investigations of any reported instances of Texas children being "subjected to abusive gender-transitioning procedures."

"Because the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is responsible for protecting children from abuse, I hereby direct your agency to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances of these abusive procedures in the State of Texas," the letter states. "To protect Texas children from abuse, DFPS and all other state agencies must follow the law as explained in OAG Opinion No. KP-0401."

RELATED: 'Gender-affirming care is lifesaving': Texas mother, transgender son speak against Abbott, Paxton's gender-affirming directive

In response to Abbott, the DFPS on Wednesday said it will be following Texas law as explained by the attorney general. However, the DFPS said there are not currently any pending investigations of child abuse involving procedures as mentioned in Paxton's opinion. If such case should arise, it will be investigated under existing policies of Child Protective Investigations.

“There is no doubt that these procedures are ‘abuse’ under Texas law, and thus must be halted,” Paxton wrote on Monday. “The Texas [DFPS] has a responsibility to act accordingly. I’ll do everything I can to protect against those who take advantage of and harm young Texans.”

Before issuing his official opinion, Paxton sent a letter to the DFPS in December claiming the state child protection agency was already to be treating these procedures as abuse under existing Texas law.

“To be clear, I trust that DFPS is investigating and taking all appropriate actions against child abuse that may occur through gender reassignment surgery, chemical or surgical castration, puberty blockers, or any other procedure as it relates to children,” Paxton wrote.

Paxton’s letter on Monday was in response to Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), who inquired whether gender-reaffirming surgeries for those under 18 count as child abuse.

“When considering questions of child abuse, a court would likely consider the fundamental right to procreation, issues of physical and emotional harm associated with these procedures and treatments, consent laws in Texas and throughout the country, and existing child abuse standards,” Paxton's letter reads.

In August 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott convinced the DFPS to treat genital transition surgeries as child abuse. Krause’s request asked to expand that definition of child abuse to include puberty blockers and mastectomies.

Paxton claims puberty blockers and other chemical transition treatments have already been determined to be child abuse, following an October 2019 opinion that the transition of the biological male son of a man named Jeff Younger to a female through puberty-blocking drugs was “abuse” under at least three definitions set out in the Family Code and that the DFPS had an independent duty to investigate.

Some advocacy groups are pushing back.

"Our youth and their families, they feel attacked," said Lane Strickland, the director of development with Out Youth, an Austin-based advocacy group that offers resources for LGBTQIA+ youth. 

Strickland said transgender children already don't feel supported by their government and changes like this will only make things worse.

"Just knowing what it could do for our clients and for our youth and their families, it's truly devastating," Strickland said. 

Advocates and doctors have also said gender reassignment surgeries are almost never performed on children.

"Gender-affirming care is not child abuse. Gender-affirming care is life-saving and life-changing for the youth and their families who receive this care," Strickland said.

But Jonathan Covey with Texas Values said this rule will hopefully stop parents from supporting these procedures for kids.

"They're barbaric, and we believe that harmful, irreversible procedures cause brain damage to children and adolescents, and they need to they need to stop immediately," Covey said. 

Texas law requires any professional who works with children to report abuse or neglect.

Austin ISD spokesperson Jason Stanford released the following statement on Wednesday: 

"We are going to do whatever it takes to give every one of our students what they need to thrive, and that means every single kid, no matter what, including the trans kids. Child abuse is too important to be used to score political points."

The National Association of Social Workers also released a statement that read, in part, "This is a non-binding legal opinion." The group added that rules for reporting child abuse aren't changing. 

Several Texas district attorneys also released a joint statement stating they "condemn Abbott and Paxton's anti-trans and life-threatening directives." Travis County DA Jose Garza is on the list. 

During the regular legislative session last year, several doctors testified to the Legislature that sex-change surgeries are not performed on children younger than 18 years old.

Since Paxton and Abbott's announcements, several other social groups have released statements against the directive, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

“Gender-affirming care saved my life. Trans kids today deserve the same opportunity by receiving the highest standard of care, rooted in decades of scientific research. No partisan political attack can change that. Our state's leaders need to focus on helping our youth and all people in our state instead of falsely attacking parents and doctors who are lovingly advocating for their children with the medically necessary care. We will never stop fighting to protect trans kids and their families in Texas," said Adri Pérez (they/them), policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas.

"This opinion and letter have no legal effect and cannot change Texas law nor usurp the constitutional rights of Texas families. But they spread fear and misinformation and could spur false reporting of child abuse at a time when DFPS is already facing a crisis in our state’s foster care system," added Brian Klosterboer (he/him), staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas. "The law is clear that parents, guardians and doctors can provide transgender youth with treatment in accordance with prevailing standards of care. Any parent or guardian who loves and supports their child and is taking them to a licensed healthcare provider is not engaging in child abuse."

In a statement on Wednesday, the Democratic National Committee condemned the decision by Paxton and Abbott:

“Republican governors and legislators have targeted innocent children solely aiming to exist as their truest selves. Medical experts have reaffirmed the reality that gender-affirming care saves lives. But instead, Gov. Abbott is cynically using Texas children as a political weapon and perpetuating senseless hatred towards the transgender and gender non-conforming community.

“We cannot be silent in the face of injustice and we must protect our nation’s children from Republican extremism. I admire the courage of the LGBTQ+ community in the face of an onslaught of anti-LGBTQ bills moving across the country and am proud to lead the Democratic Party that continues to fight alongside them against these shameful attacks.”

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