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Breanna finds a home; Minnesota Waiting Child Program creates ‘forever family’

“We’re complete,” says mom Melanie Nelson of her four-member family. Melanie and her husband, Perry, adopted Breanna through the Minnesota Waiting Child Program. Breanna, who joined the family in summer 2011, is now an older sister to 5-year-old Drew. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BAGLEY –Breanna Nelson is a typical 14-year-old girl who has to follow the family rules, like not being able to have a cell phone unless she participates in a sport. She has a bright-pink bedroom, its walls covered in posters and artwork, and, on occasion, she gets annoyed by her 5-year-old brother, Drew.

Breanna is the newest member of the Nelson family. Her parents, Perry and Melanie Nelson of Bagley, adopted her in 2010 through the Minnesota Waiting Child Program, which places foster children with permanent homes.

“We are her forever family,” Melanie said. “We’re not just another temporary spot.”

The Nelsons about two years ago began looking into adoption to expand their then-three-person family. Drew was 4, so Perry and Melanie were thinking that a girl, perhaps 8 years old or younger, would be a good fit for them.

It was their case worker, Ashley Malterud, also a family friend, who suggested that they meet Breanna, a bright, 13-year-old who shared similar interests.

“Just knowing the Nelsons’ personalities and Breanna’s personality, I just felt it would be a good fit,” said Malterud, who works for North Homes Children and Family Services in its Bemidji office.

The Nelsons agreed that age wasn’t the issue; the most important factor was finding a good match for their family. Breanna, like them, enjoys sports and being outdoors. She likes crafting, as does her mom, and she shares an interest in fishing and hunting with her dad.

The first time they all met, they gathered inside a Dairy Queen to get acquainted with one another.

“I was more nervous than I was excited,” said Breanna, who previously had gone through unsuccessful matches.

But the Nelsons and Breanna clicked and grew more comfortable with one another. Soon, Breanna was spending weekends in Bagley.

She joined the Nelsons full time in early June, after school was out. She had finished her school year in East Grand Forks, and Perry, a high school English teacher, and Melanie, a kindergarten teacher, also were home full time at that point.

“It couldn’t have been timed any better,” Melanie said.

All four spent the summer coming together as a family, learning about one another and their new dynamic. Breanna met the next-door neighbor and developed a friendship.

“We basically played outside every day,” Breanna said.

Breanna’s adoption was finalized in December and she was baptized at the family church, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, in April.

“I like it here,” Breanna said of her new home.

Perry and Melanie considered all of their adoption options as they looked to expand their family.

“We liked the Minnesota Waiting Child Program because they were local,” Melanie said.

Malterud said North Homes works with all Minnesota counties to place children aged 0-17 with permanent homes, though the goal usually is to keep children within the same region.

“The benefit (of the program) is, with children in foster care, the hope is that they will find a permanent forever family,” Malterud said. “

The Minnesota Department of Human Services reports that about 400 children are in foster care throughout the state.

The Minnesota Waiting Child Program works to place these children with permanent families. Most are school-age, and some have physical, mental or emotional disabilities. Some are siblings who need to stay together.

North Homes, according to a press release, placed 42 children last year through the Minnesota Waiting Child Program.

The Nelsons said they would “absolutely” recommend the program to others.

While there were some struggles, they were minimal, Melanie said.

“You hear that it’s hard to adopt older kids or teens, but I think people are scared,” she said. “For us, it’s been great. Breanna is a typical teenage girl.”