Storefront DNA Testing Lab Opens in New Haven

Joyce Winston has opened what’s thought to be the first neighborhood walk-in DNA testing lab.  Read about it here (New Haven Independent, 7/22/11).

Winston, it seems was involved with two separate men at different times who discovered, long after they’d accepted a child as theirs, that someone else was actually the father.  Entrepreneur that she is, that gave Winston an idea.

Winston said it”s just as important for a man to know that he”s not the father as to learn that he is.

“There are a lot of different situations where the father found out after he had a child that the child wasn”t his,’ and yet he still had legal responsibility for the child, said Winston, who”s 39. Fathers who acknowledge paternity officially or ignore legal notices of paternal responsibility often have great difficulty undoing that determination–despite a negative paternity test.

“We want to make it so fathers can get testing early on before it gets to that situation,’ she said.

So her store front walk-in lab promises results within 48 hours.  For people who can’t afford the $400 price tag, she offers time payments and discounts.  The woman’s on a mission to do what states should have started requiring long ago – genetic testing of every child and putative father to establish actual paternity early in a child’s life.

Winston’s New Haven community has noticed and applauded.

“When I saw the sign I thought, `Go progress,”‘ said Dresha Grier, who owns an eponymous hair salon around the corner from the clinic. “Why go through the waiting and the overpaying when you can find out right here in the community?’

Steven Stewart, 54, who sells newspapers across the street from the clinic, praised the location. “It”s the right spot–across the street from a high school in the ‘hood, as they say,’ Stewart said, adding that a paternity test “can provide a lot of closure on a tough subject.’

Willie Penn, 44, and Greg Carter, 45, who were visiting a relative who lives down the block from the clinic, said there is definitely a need for such testing.

“A lot of my friends found out when their children were 20 or 25 years old they were not the father,’ Penn said. “At the point the baby was born they didn”t bother to find out because they didn”t want to disrespect the mother. But it”s better to know at the beginning.’

Carter agreed: “Little kids become part of your life. You develop a bond and then you find out you”re not the father. It”s hard.’

…Lance Carpenter also had a personal reaction to the clinic across the street from where he sells newspapers alongside Stewart. The former Marine said he never knew who his father was. “My mother told me three different men were my daddy,’ Carpenter recalled. The 54-year-old said he made sure he knew he was the father of his four children. “People should know about their background,’ he said, adding “we need it in the community.’

All of that is important in a state like Connecticut that makes it hard for men to “reopen” a case if they acknowledged paternity at the hospital or in court.  I wrote recently about the procedures used by Connecticut courts and, once a man claims he’s the father, he’s pretty much stuck with that decision irrespective of genetics.

Basically, the courts look to how long he’s been involved in the child’s life and whether the child looks at him as his father.  If so, the court will be loath to overturn the man’s previous acknowledgement.

On the surface, that looks to be, if not fair to the father, at least fair to the child.  After all, why rip up a child’s relationship with its father based on DNA?  The child neither knows nor cares about that; he/she only cares about continuing the love and care of the man called “Daddy.”

That of course makes sense until you realize that we daily contradict that very precept – that stability for the child is all-important.  Indeed we do so thousands of times a day.  It’s called divorce.

The U.S. Census Bureau tells us that in the year preceding its 2009 American Community Survey, over 1 million children’s parents divorced.  In every one of those cases, a child’s life was torn apart, its world turned upside down by the simple fact that (in 84% of those cases) he/she wouldn’t be seeing much of Daddy any more.

Moreover, many of the mothers of those children remarried, if not sooner then later.  In so doing, they brought into the child’s life another man who the child didn’t think of as “Daddy,” but who would try to play that role.  And of course the child’s previous “Daddy” was marginalized by the entire process of divorce and custody that left him an every-other-weekend visitor with the child.

Was that upsetting to the child?  You bet it was.  Time and again we learn and relearn the profound emotional/psychological effects divorce has on children.  That’s partly due to divorce itself and partly to the loss of their father.  However it’s done, children suffer when their parents split up.

We would never dream of restricting parents’ rights to divorce and remarriage.  That’s true despite the fact that all the arguments against allowing a man to opt out of his role as father when he learns he’s not the dad are equally valid against divorce and remarriage. 

Those arguments carry the day in the former case but are considered too strange to even mention in the latter. 

All of which is to say that, for men and for children, it’s far better to do genetic testing as soon as possible.  Finding out the truth about paternity prevents a host of problems, misunderstandings, hurt feelings and sometimes permanent emotional trauma down the road.  States should require it at the birth of every child.

Failing that, stop by Joyce Winston’s testing lab.  It’s right there on the street.  Whatever the results, you’ll be glad you did.

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