VINELAND - Nilsa Acosta wants to bring her newborn son home for Christmas, but the state of New Jersey will not let her.
Acosta and her adopted son, Joel, are caught up in a bureaucratic snag that has left them effectively trapped in Nevada, more than 2,000 miles away from home.
"We're just baffled as to why the situation is so complex," said Iris Jimenez, Acosta's sister.
Acosta, a guidance counselor at Lakeside Middle School in Millville, adopted her son last month in Las Vegas, shortly after his birth Nov. 12. She had the adoption approved there, but the homefront is where she runs into trouble.
New Jersey administrators for the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, or ICPC, require a new home study, which is effectively an inspection to make sure her home is safe for the child, and a series of background checks. Acosta had one done in January for an infant foster child she cared for over the course of three months earlier this year. When she learned in late September about the adoption opportunity in Las Vegas, she checked with her New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services caseworker to confirm whether that first study would suffice. She was told it would, and DYFS sent information on the house study to Nevada, Acosta says.
Acosta left for Nevada to be there for her adopted son's birth, but then someone indicated she would need a new home study, she said.
She also would not be allowed to return to New Jersey with Joel to have one done. Rather, she would have to leave him in Nevada.
Acosta is a single mother. There is no father with whom she could split the responsibilities. She is staying with a cousin in Nevada, but that cousin recently started a job at a Las Vegas casino and could not adequately care for the child. Her cousin's mother has cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy. Foster care would be the only realistic option, and Acosta said she is unwilling to accept that.
"They won't let me bring him home to do the house study," Acosta said. "I would have to place him in foster care. Foster care? Are you kidding me?"
DYFS declined to comment on the specifics of the case, citing confidentiality laws.
Lauren Kidd, a DYFS spokeswoman, said the agency's home studies are to be used only for adoptions from within New Jersey's child welfare system. Outside private adoptions require a home study by a private entity, Kidd said.
Acosta has set one up with the Open Arms Adoption Network in Philadelphia, but ICPC still requires her to be present. She has offered to set up a video conference feed via Skype, an online video telephone service, which would allow her to be in contact with an inspector during a house study. That has not satisfied ICPC either.
Acosta said last week she e-mailed Kim Ricketts, the commissioner of New Jersey's Department of Children and Families, the state department that oversees ICPC and DYFS but has not heard back.
Acosta has enlisted lawyers in Nevada and New Jersey to speed up the process. Her Nevada lawyer, Amanda Roberts, will be seeking a court order granting Acosta a visit to New Jersey with her child.
For now, Acosta remains in Nevada. That means she is unable to return to work at Lakeside or be near her family. (Her mother will watch the boy while Acosta works.) She has already expended her vacation time and is effectively living off her savings.
And she is experiencing the first weeks of motherhood thousands of miles away from home. Like many new mothers, she is constantly tired. By Thursday, she had laryngitis and had lost her voice.
"Last night, I was excited because he only took an hour to fall asleep," Acosta said with a laugh. "I said to my sister, 'He actually let me sleep five hours straight.' It's funny. You're tired all the time, but you're loving every minute of it."
The situation is difficult, she said, but it has not eliminated the joy of finally being a mother, now in her 40s.
"I always wanted a family, and it just didn't work out for me," Acosta said. "I wanted to be married before I had a child, but it just didn't work out. But I still wanted a child. I always wanted to be a mother. Now I am, and now I'm amazed. The only thing I regret is that I didn't do this sooner."
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