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Dads and IDs: A New Program

For thousands of infants born each year to unmarried women in California, paternity is never formally acknowledged, and therein lies a problem both for the babies and the State of California. The lack of that information can deprive a child of financial support, family medical history and perhaps emotional support.

To make establishing paternity easier, a new state program took effect Jan. 1 at all licensed hospitals and clinics with birthing facilities. The Paternity Opportunity Program will require hospital and clinic staffs to provide a form that identifies the father, although no one will be obliged to name him. An increase in the identification of fathers will, in some cases, reduce welfare costs and relieve government of the expense of tracking down so-called deadbeat dads.

This program is necessary because the number of babies born to unmarried parents is rising dramatically. More than 200,000 infants were born out of wedlock last year in California. Paternity is often not an issue for the state, but when it is, the cost of identifying the father averages $400 to $600 per child. That covers DNA tests, legal costs and other expenses borne by the California Department of Social Services. Establishing paternity for California children cost $30 million during the last fiscal year. Much of that expense can be avoided if fathers can be persuaded to acknowledge their babies at birth.

Unmarried parents will be encouraged to sign a “Declaration of Paternity” shortly after a birth, a document that will be filed with the birth certificate. The statement will include the Social Security numbers of the parents. That information will make it easier, when necessary, to obtain court-ordered child support and to find fathers or mothers who fail to provide for their children.

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In Los Angeles, representatives of the district attorney’s office who enforce child support laws have been meeting with officials of county hospitals to explain how staffs can provide the new parents with information, including a video. That should help.

Through a partnership between the D.A. and the state tax agency, county officials collected about $29 million in delinquent child support last year. Even President Clinton took note.

The district attorney’s office deserves high marks for that success, but there is room for improvement, according to a report prepared by the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law, which is sponsored by the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., Black Women Lawyers and the Women Lawyers Assn. of Los Angeles. While citing improvement in the D.A.'s effort to collect child support, the center’s report maintains the office has been slow to find some absentee parents. Finding deadbeat dads will be now easier thanks to the state’s new voluntary paternity program.


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