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Published: October 7, 2008
Nine-month-old Nevaeh is a thief.
In a matter of seconds, the little girl will steal your heart.
That's what happened to Ron and Karen Bell.
In March, the Bells agreed to bring Nevaeh — that's "heaven" spelled backwards — into their Statesville home as foster parents.
Nevaeh's mother, the Bells said, was 14 when she gave birth to the girl in January. The baby's father, a 28-year-old from West Virginia, has never faced charges, despite impregnating the 13-year-old girl, the Bells said.
If the age of Nevaeh's birth mother was strike one against the child before she was even born, strike two was the teen's use of drugs and alcohol during her pregnancy, they said.
The Bells believe the third strike will come in the form of an Iredell County Department of Social Services worker coming to their front door and asking them to hand over Nevaeh.
"It could happen any day," Ron said. "Any car that drives down that street could be the one coming to take her away."
Shortly after birth, Nevaeh was diagnosed with drug withdrawal problems and fetal alcohol syndrome, the Bells said. She spent several weeks in the hospital before the Bells took her in, joining two girls for whom the Bells have served as surrogate parents for the past two years.
They were told it would be a temporary arrangement. So with time on their hands, they agreed.
That's when the little girl stole their hearts.
"We fell in love with her," Karen said.
Ron and Karen are 62 and 58, respectively, but both have passed physical examinations with flying colors. This is true despite Ron's having had bypass surgery and Karen's diabetes.
Their age is not supposed to be a factor in deciding their fitness as adoptive parents.
Indeed, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services encourages folks from all backgrounds to adopt.
Under the heading of "Who can adopt?" on the DHHS Web site, the department vaguely addresses the issue of age. "Adopting families can be older or younger, wealthy or of modest income, two-parent or single-parent," the site page reads in part. "The primary requirement for adoption is that you can provide a healthy, loving and nurturing home for a child."
And the Bells say they have dedicated themselves to doing exactly that.
But, they say, their age has come up.
They contend that Angela Williams, an Iredell County DSS supervisor, told them they would not be considered as prospective adoptive parents for Nevaeh "because we were too old and had health problems," Ron said.
When asked by the R&L, DSS Director Donald Wall said he could not discuss specifics of the case. When asked general questions about the department's adoption procedures or age requirements, Wall hung up the phone.
On Oct. 1, the Bells were told by the state that they were being turned down as adoptive parents of Nevaeh. They were told to contact the Iredell DSS to find out the reasons for their rejection.
The Bells say DSS won't tell them either and that efforts to contact Wall have given them the impression he was intentionally ignoring them. Ron Bell said he has left about a half-dozen phone messages for Wall and written him three different letters.
"I don't know why he won't call us back," Bell said. "But you'd think that if they were worried about the best interest of the child, we would all be able to talk about this."
Karen Bell said that while they love Nevaeh, it is not their love that is driving their desire for the baby to stay with them.
"She's comfortable with us. She is thriving with us," she said. "Nevaeh is part of our family. Her personality is already made and it includes what she has learned here."
Her husband agrees.
"I would do anything for that little baby," he said, adding that he has already bought Nevaeh's Halloween costume.
"It's a pumpkin," he said with a hint of both joy and concern in his voice. "We just hope she gets to use it."