Paternity records taken in effort to get grants

A steady stream of young parents, buoyed by the support of accompanying grandparents and friends, filled a small waiting room at the state Department of Justice's Division of Child Support office in Medford on Saturday.

A pair of young women on their way to a lake — colorful swimwear peeking from beneath cover-up T-shirts — compared notes on filling out forms that will identify the legal fathers of their children.

With a baby boy sleeping in an infant seat near her feet, one mother counted on her fingers as she thought back to when she discovered she was pregnant. "I found out two days after my 18th birthday," she said.

The state office opened Saturday to extend its services to people who might find it difficult to access the assistance available during regular office hours, said Serena Wolfard, a child support case manager.

If needed, those who attended could even get free DNA tests to help determine paternity.

"It's been very busy," Wolfard said. "We're glad people took the opportunity to come down and talk to us."

Child support offices around the state were open Saturday in an effort to increase the number of births in which a father is legally recorded. The state must meet paternity-establishment requirements to get federal block grant money for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Fathers are automatically recorded in births to married couples, but unmarried couples have a variety of ways to ensure both parents are listed on vital records, officials explained.

They can fill out a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity and file it with the Vital Records. The form is free if it is completed at a hospital or birthing center at the time of birth.

It can be filed later for a $50 fee, which the child support division will pay if it handles the paperwork or if the family receives public assistance. Wolfard noted that complying with the Division of Child Support to ensure a legal father is listed is a condition of receiving many types of state aid.

Men and women can each ask the state for help in establishing who a child's father might be, officials said. In the course of the administrative process, the state will conduct DNA tests, valued at $30 each, with cheek swabs from the mother, child and suspected father. The tests are free, although the state can seek reimbursement if a person contesting a paternity claim is ultimately found to be the father, Wolfard said.

Child support case manager Wendy Frey explained that the services are available to all families whose children were born in Oregon, not just those getting assistance from the state.

Anyone can request information about establishing paternity by calling 541-858-6596, Frey said. The office at 310 E. 6th Street, Suite 300, Medford, is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Medford resident Luke Howells was glad to discover the services offered by the office.

"I didn't know this place existed until yesterday," the 22-year-old said.

On the hunt for inexpensive paternity testing after his initial research indicated he might have to travel to Portland and pay $500, he found out about the state's services from a community health worker who had seen a newspaper announcement about Saturday's event. He notified the mother of the 6-month-old boy who might be his son, and they all came down to undergo testing.

"I wanted to find out for sure," Howells said. "That way if he is my son I can spend time with him and be part of his life."

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 541-776-4485, or e-mail

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