State program to promote establishing children’s paternity canceled

349px-Seal_of_DelawareDOVER — Questions remain about a Division of Child Support Services letter sent home with students promoting the value of identifying their birth mother and father, if applicable.

In response to media inquiries last week, DCSS Director Theodore Mermigos issued a statement on Tuesday describing the pilot program as ineffective and thus canceled.

The letter was apparently delivered by some school children to their parents at an undisclosed time.

Mr. Mermigos declined comment on several followup questions, and limited available information to the statement.

The DCSS is part of the Delaware Heath and Social Services agency.

According to the statement, “The Division of Child Support Services is responsible for and measured by the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement for ensuring paternity of children within their caseload.

“As a division, DCSS has been exploring methods to share information with the public about the free Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity program in Delaware.

“As a pilot outreach effort, DCSS sent a letter home to school parents about the benefits of establishing paternity. The outreach did not achieve the desired results intended and has been discontinued.“

The DCSS would not provide information on how many letters were sent, when the students received them, how the public reacted or what schools were involved.

Also left unanswered were what the program’s desired results were and why it was stopped.

Capital School District Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton remembered the letter arriving “nearly a year ago” and “[a]t the time we felt it was not something that we would be participating in.

“To my knowledge, and with some cursory investigation to confirm, we did not send this out in our schools. It was not mandated, we were asked to participate by my recollection.”

Superintendent Deb Wicks said the Smyrna School District received the letter and offered no further comment on if it was distributed.

Superintendent Dr. Brenda Wynder communicated with all Lake Forest School District principals on Wednesday, and none reported receiving the letter.

After checking with an assistant superintendent and high school principal, Polytech School District Superintendent Deborah Zych said, “None of us have seen this letter.”

Spokesman Dave Chambers said that the Caesar Rodney School District had not received the letter.

Establishing paternity

The letter addressed to parents began with, “In Delaware all children born in the state must have paternity established. There may be lifelong benefits for your child as a result of paternity being established.”

The DCSS cited the importance of establishing paternity for unmarried and civil union couples because “the law does not recognize the other parent unless, paternity/parentage is legally established.”

Also, “One of the most important things parents can do for their children is establishing paternity, it gives your child the same rights and benefits as children born to married parents.”

The DCSS listed five bullet point benefits to establishing paternity, and noted the easiest way to do it is through the Volunteer Acknowledgment of Paternity program. There is no cost to the program, and the Division of Child Support Services or Division of Public health can notarize the VAP form.

The DCSS said more information could be provided by calling 577-7171, going online to dhss.delaware.gov/dcss or the office between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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