Members Only | March 17, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Texas says gender-affirming care is child abuse. It’s the latest in a history of states weaponizing child protective services

If it isn’t gender-affirming care, it’s something else.a


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Texas made headlines again for a cruel law aimed at social control. The vigilante abortion law is still in place. Governor Greg Abbott issued a letter last month classifying gender-affirming care as “child abuse.” 

The order was temporarily blocked, but it has the effect of forcing doctors, nurses and teachers to report families to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). 

Like the vigilante abortion law, this anti-trans order turns to civilians to enforce the law. Unfortunately, child protective services nationwide have a history of being used as arms of social control in order to police Black and Native families as well as to control domestic violence cases.

Current attacks on families supporting trans children with gender-affirming care stems from a father in a custody dispute. Jeff Younger, a father of twins going through a divorce with his pediatrician wife in 2019, accused his wife of child abuse for supporting one of their seven-year-olds in transitioning.

While removing children from impoverished families dates back to English common law, there were no organizations devoted to child protection until 1875 in New York. Prior to that, parents could be prosecuted for abusing their children but criminal prosecutions were only imposed for egregious abuse rising to a criminal cause of action. 

There were individual instances of removing children from abusive homes before 1875 in the US, but there was no clear process, or agency, to protect children being abused by their parents. 

While the post-Civil War era saw a rise in governmental institutions generally, and particularly with involvement in children and public education, it is also not a coincidence that formalized child protective services began during a period of increased immigration. 

There were growing nativist concerns about the influx of “undesirable” immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe polluting American cities with crime and disease. The first child protective organization in New York City grew out of incidents in immigrant tenements and a distrust of immigrant parents to raise their own children.

I recently wrote about child removal and cultural genocide against Native Americans, but it should come as no surprise that claims of protecting kids have been regularly weaponized against Black families. 

Dorothy Roberts has written about the racist history of child welfare and the policing of Black motherhood. Black children are more likely to be taken away on account of their families living in poverty than white families are in similar situations. There was an increase in attacks to the welfare state after the civil rights movement helped Black people gain access to governmental assistance programs. 

Governmental assistance should help keep families together but cutting their funding means fewer options for poor families. 

Abuse allegations are also weaponized in divorce cases to get a more favorable custody ruling. While the stereotype is that women accuse men of abuse to get full custody, the reality is that men are more successful at using the family court system against their wives. 

A woman who asserts abuse during divorce proceedings is more likely to lose custody and be accused of engaging in parental alienation. 

Additionally, PTSD and mental health issues as a response to abuse can be weaponized, if women are on medication, to suggest they are unfit. 

Current attacks on families supporting trans children with gender-affirming care stems from a father in a custody dispute. 

Jeff Younger, a father of twins going through a divorce with his pediatrician wife in 2019, accused his wife of child abuse for supporting one of their seven-year-olds in transitioning. 

While his ex-wife said the child, who was assigned male at birth, was living as a girl by choice, Younger said she was forcing the child to wear dresses against their will. 

Younger gained so much attention on social media Abbott said the state would look into his family, making it the first time a family was investigated for child abuse based on supporting a child transitioning. 

In this case the state ruled out child abuse but that was before Abbott’s order classifying supporting gender-affirming care as child abuse. Even though Younger’s ex-wife was cleared, he was still able to use family court to harass his ex and weaponize abuse accusations.

For all the flaws in child welfare, Texas’ is particularly overtaxed and harmful. The foster care system doesn’t have enough caseworkers or beds for the kid taken into custody before this new order. 

Additionally, child-trafficking victims have been repeatedly abused in licensed foster care facilities. LGBTQ children already enter the foster care system at disproportionately high numbers when their families don’t accept them, and if allowed to proceed, Abbott’s order will serve to disrupt the trans children receiving love and support from families. 

Parents supporting gender-affirming care for trans children leads to a decline in depression and suicide. While it seems a lot of case workers don’t support Abbott’s order, which could help families avoid removal, any abuse investigation into a family can be disruptive and invasive. 

The discretion of a judge is not enough to protect families from the trauma of an investigation as it can take a long time for a case to be resolved and parents remain on the DFPS registry unless they successfully appeal to be removed. If your name is on this registry you can be prevented from working in certain jobs related to children.

Texas has been temporarily blocked from investigating families supporting gender affirming care for child abuse, but 15 states have introduced bills to ban gender-affirming healthcare for minors and we have no idea what will happen with the Texas law going forward. 

While we must fight to protect transgender youth, we must recognize the ways child protective services can be easily weaponized to police families, particularly those from vulnerable communities.

Mia Brett, PhD, is the Editorial Board's legal historian. She lives with her gorgeous dog, Tchotchke. You can find her @queenmab87.

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