Five years of foster care comes to fruition
By Robert Williams
Trescha Mitchell always knew she wanted a larger family and through working with Becker County Human Services, she recently accomplished that by completing the adoption process with her two daughters Katrina and Janaya.
The process is not a fast one. The girls, two and seven-years-old at the time, began living permanently with Trescha and her biological daughter Alydia on October 28, 2018 after being removed from their home and short stints in temporary homes for a month.
“I wasn’t 100 percent sure then, but I took them on weekends,” said Mitchell.
Work commitments with the school and FFA, including the National Convention further complicated scheduling.
“As a teacher and a single mom, I had to make the executive decision of what would I do with these kids?” she said.
Mitchell began working with the county by providing respite care on weekends. An open weekend provided a rare stint of idle time alone and that was enough to convince the busy teacher, advisor and mom that she was ready for more.
“I did it one weekend and after my divorce Alydia would go with her dad and I was bored,” Trescha said. “I know it sounds weird, you feel like you’re empty-nesting, whatever it was, and I also bartended on the side. I just felt like my house was empty and I didn’t like it. My intention was always to have multiple kids.”
Mitchell attended classes with the county to learn how to handle kids who are being removed from their families.
“There is a lot of mental health going into that,” she said. “I did night classes and Alydia came with me to the night classes. We made the decision that this is something that was fun. She never wanted to be the older child or the only child. So we made that decision.”
Alydia, now 14-years-old, has provided the support at home Trescha and the girls needed.
“She has been the rock,” said Mitchell. “She went to the classes with me so she understood.
She had some classmates that were also in foster care so she was aware, but she was in third grade. She definitely knew there were kids that had some rough lives and for a nine-year-old to understand that…”
Getting to the adoption process was a long case that was meant to be short-term. Adoption was not the initial goal.
The original plan was she and Alydia would have the girls from October until Christmas of 2018.
“The ultimate goal for the county is always to reunite the families with their kids,” said Mitchell.
The girls had two-hour supervised visits twice a week with their biological mom.
Mitchell strived to provide an environment where the girls felt safe and protected, things that were lacking in their lives, and even provided mentorship to their mother.
The girls joined the traveling Tumbleforce Gymnastics team the following spring and the entire group, including the girls’ biological mother, spent that traveling time bonding.
“Kids that are removed from their families, it’s very dramatic for them,” Mitchell said. “I couldn’t imagine that, all of a sudden, officers come to your house with social workers and intake workers and you’re removed and who knows when the next time you’ll see your parents? It’s pretty dramatic.”
A significant part of the classwork with the county is dealing with exactly those kinds of situations.
“There is no magic answer out in the world with how you deal with it,” said Mitchell. “I know everybody has their own experience, but I will say through my experience with Becker County, even with doing respite care, our county workers are phenomenal. We have a great county team, between the social workers, intake workers, guardian ad Litem, our team is phenomenal. Hands down, I wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”
Counseling for everyone involved was imperative.
“I started counseling with the girls right away,” said Mitchell.
Monthly reports, feedback and family counseling are all part of the schedule and each of the girls have their own counselor, as well.
“Maybe it’s just me as a teacher, I feel like keeping my kids educated, themselves, on hey, this is what your body is going through,” said Mitchell. “We go through counseling a lot. We meet with our family counselor every other week.”
Mitchell gives credit to the process in allowing communication to happen within the family unit and also on an individual level.
“Things come up,” she said. “You don’t know when kids are going to have triggers.”
It also allowed some pressure to be relieved in not having to approach the situation like she had to have all the answers, while in the same light, making sure the home provided was adequate for the girls’ situation.
“I don’t solve everything; you can’t,” Mitchell said. “They give you a lot of resources and you have to go through professional hours, knowing about fire extinguishers and house safety. They do a house inspection, making sure all the kids have adequate beds and rooms.”
Trescha grew up the youngest of four siblings and her family has been very important as a needed support system. Her schedule is also quite hectic and that means the family unit is busy too, as a group.
“As an Ag teacher, FFA advisor, we’re busy already and I also have a hobby farm,” she said. “We have goats and sheep. The girls have not only intaked into the school activities, but the community. We do 4-H and we were just at the state fair because they were showing for FFA.”
Mitchell is on the state fair FFA board and with the help of her mom Sharon, everyone else in the family had dual responsibilities last weekend as the kids were showing goats while mom worked and grandma maintained order.
“It takes a village, like my niece came from South Dakota and stayed last weekend to help fit the goats,” she said. “I don’t do it alone and it’s nice to have additional people to lean on.”
At times, the schedule seems like organized chaos or an obstacle course.
“There is a lot put on a foster family but we just make it part of our routine,” said Mitchell.
Integrating the regular meetings with county social workers and counselors also become part of the pattern.
“It’s part of their day, it’s not like a red flag,” said Mitchell. “We just make it a routine; throw it on the calendar and we figure out who is going what direction that day. I always say, Mitchell Crew, let’s go! We are very active.”
As time passed, counseling allowed concerns to surface about the girls ever going back to their original home.
“Reality hit and I didn’t know if these kids could safely go back yet,” said Mitchell. “Then COVID happened and things changed.”
The restrictions created by the government’s response to the pandemic complicated the working relationships between all parties in the two families and the case moved to the court system.
The Child in Need of Protection or Services (CHIPS) trial was handled fully by social workers, counselors and the court.
“That is the blessing of our court system, because kids should never have to face a judge,” said Mitchell.
Protection services were granted and the child protection was put in place allowing the kids to proceed to residence permanency with the Mitchells.
Communicating openly was important in that transition as well.
“I’m very honest with the girls like hey this is what’s going on,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes, they can accept it; sometimes they can’t and I understand. It’s a lot to handle, even as an adult.”
Mitchell also prioritized spending one-on-one time with all three of her daughters over the past half-decade.
“I don’t do it as often as I wish I could, but that’s also hard,” she said. “As a parent, you should take that time one-on-one and boy, they talk a lot; you won’t have a dull moment.”
Her faith and church also provided needed support and that was an introduction of something new to Katrina and Janaya.
“Our church and our faith, I incorporate that,” Mitchell said. “They didn’t know what church was and I feel like my faith has kept me going, truly.”
Over the past five years, the Mitchells have overcome difficulties like the kids dealing with anger issues or night terrors. Only recently, Trescha was able to put the girls to bed and close their bedroom doors. She likened the process to incrementally closing the door a little bit at a time each night until the girls were comfortable being in their own enclosed space and feeling safe throughout the night.
“You take it; you celebrate those aha moments,” said Mitchell.
The adoption process got its own aha moment and the trial was elongated by a new arrival. The girls’ biological mother gave birth to a little brother. The ultimate family goal was they wanted to see that he would get adopted with the girls, but that has become a separate case that is still in process.
The Mitchells received their little brother as part of the family when he was only 12-days-old.
“He’ll hopefully complete our family sooner or later; hopefully, like soon, but we have to wait for the judge,” said Mitchell.
The family recently celebrated a big step in finalizing the official adoption of Katrina and Janaya nearly five years after they first met.
“It’s a good thing,” said Katrina.
Despite the wait and different obstacles the family overcame, the entire process was made worth it when they officially became a family.
“1,000 percent, obviously, I’m going to move forward with the brother,” said Mitchell. “Would I take in more? If we could as a family, but it’s definitely a family discussion. Hands down, the older girls are mature, they’re 14 and 12. They get it. They understand.”
The Mitchells accomplished their goal by creating a framework of understanding and teamwork that involved everyone and that is how they are proceeding as a family.
“My biggest aha moment for people, if you have the will to give back you just make it part of your routine,” said Mitchell. “These kids, we live in the gym; the older girls are in activities, so guess what? We’re all going to go. It is a family ordeal. If I have to volunteer at the community club dinner, we’re all going to be there. It’s funny, people just know, the ‘Mitchell Crew’ is coming.”
Trescha has seen and applauded other “success families” during her work with the county.
“There is a lot of success out there and that is why people can continue doing foster care,” she said.
The “Mitchell Crew” is now a shining example of that success.