Skip to main content

At The Washington Post, Prof. Dorothy Roberts denounces Texas governor’s use of child welfare agencies to investigate parents seeking gender-affirming care for trans children

March 04, 2022

“Abbott’s deployment of the child welfare system will punish parents for affirming their children’s gender identities, not protect children,” writes Roberts.

The following is an excerpt from “The child welfare system already hurts trans kids. Texas made it a nightmare,” written by Dorothy E. Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights, and published in The Washington Post:

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered Texas’s child welfare agencies to investigate parents whose children receive gender-affirming health care, and threatened them and professionals who fail to report it with criminal prosecution. This contradicts the position of the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical associations, which strenuously oppose government restrictions on children’s access to these services. In some respects, Texas follows a nationwide trend: Republican lawmakers in at least 27 states have introduced legislation to limit transgender and gender-diverse youth from accessing gender-affirming medical care, participating in school activities and using restrooms that align with their gender identity… .

Abbott’s move to punish parents who violate the state’s prescribed gender norms reflects the overall design of child protective services and its regulation of families. The directive’s veneer of benevolence, covering for its harmful objective, is not an aberration. Rather, it is a central feature of the child welfare system — a multibillion-dollar apparatus that controls marginalized families, especially those that are Black and Native, by taking their children away. Relying on vague state child neglect laws, investigators often deem conditions of poverty — lack of food, insecure housing, inadequate medical care — as evidence of parental unfitness. Only 17 percent of children enter foster care based on allegations they were physically or sexually abused. With the Texas directive, and in the child welfare system generally, what constitutes child abuse is subject to the interpretation of mandated reporters and caseworkers whose perceptions are influenced by racial and class biases.

Abbott’s deployment of the child welfare system will punish parents for affirming their children’s gender identities, not protect children. And this tactic should cause the public to question more broadly how other struggling families are harmed by a system that polices rather than supports them.

Roberts is an acclaimed scholar of race, gender, and the law. She joined the University of Pennsylvania as its 14th Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor with joint appointments in the Departments of Africana Studies and Sociology and the Law School. Roberts is also founding director of the Penn Program on Race, Science & Society in the Center for Africana Studies.

Read the full piece at The Washington Post.