Karen and Dan Krankel have been foster parents for almost 300 children since 1981. Recently, we spoke with Karen to learn why she and Dan have a special passion for fostering teenagers, and what advice she has for foster parents working with teens.
While some foster parents may feel hesitant fostering older children, the Krankels instead find teenagers to be, for the most part, “absolutely wonderful.” The Krankels had three biological teenagers of their own when they first began fostering so “having more teenagers in the home just seemed like an extension,” Karen said. She explained how special it is to support teens as they develop into young adults: “I can talk to them, see the reward of them growing into adults, see them begin to understand the reality of adulthood, and be a support throughout those transitions.”
How do you approach fostering teens?
Through thirty–nine years of foster parenting, Karen learned that having a positive attitude is instrumental when fostering teens. She believes “little things lead to the big things.” Being polite and saying please and thank you, even when the teen does something that is expected of them, goes a long way.
Always include the youth in care into your family time.
Karen noted that more often than not, teens in foster care have never experienced being together as a family. So the Krankels make it a priority to create family time, whether that be going to a movie or simply eating dinner together. “While a lot of teens may put up a shield or defense, I’ve seen how important the act of togetherness becomes to them,” said Karen.
Be consistent & follow through.
It is important for teenagers to feel like they have control in their lives “but you need to be consistent in parenting,” suggests Karen. “What is okay today needs to be okay tomorrow.”
When dealing with consequences, for example, “tell the truth rather than making empty threats,” Karen recommended. “If you tell teenagers they can’t go to a friend’s house unless they get their grades up, then the foster parent needs to make sure to follow through with that consequence.”
It is also important to follow through with promises made to the youth in care. If a foster parent says they are going to do something, then they should do their best to make good on that promise.
Karen knows first-hand how hard following through can be sometimes. She made a promise to two siblings in her care that their grandmother would be visiting them one afternoon. After learning the grandmother could no longer make it, she drove up to Chicago and back so that the siblings could see their grandmother. “It is important for youth to realize that people do tell the truth. Stay positive, even through the bad times,” she advised.
Take advantage of agency support & support groups.
For foster parents interested in fostering teenagers, Karen suggested starting with respite care, or short term emergency care, in order to get a feel for what it is like. “Fostering teens can be a challenge, but foster parents need to be willing to utilize their support systems, which also includes their agency and caseworkers,” she advised. It is also important for foster parents to communicate any concerns, and be willing to ask for direction or help.
Karen also highly recommends attending the foster parent support groups that meet monthly at each Caritas location. “Having the ability to talk to other foster parents, share resources, feedback, and support is a valuable asset to fostering older children.”
Fostering older children is a process, but “what has happened in a youth’s life does not dictate the rest of their lives.” mused Karen. As a foster parent, “sympathizing with the children in your care, understanding that they may have ups and downs, and even becoming emotional at times is an integral part of the process of having a child in your home.” As Karen explained, foster parents are a support for these teens, and are able to watch them grow into adults.
Karen and Dan continue to be a support in many of their previous foster children’s lives. They believe maintaining relationships post-foster care not only contributes to a life-long feeling of “family,” but also helps younger foster children. “Any new youth placed in our care benefits from seeing our continued involvement in previous foster children’s lives,” concluded Karen. For Christmas every year, the Krankels come together, reuniting as a family. Last year alone they rented out a total of 19 hotel rooms for their current and previous foster children.
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, contact Caritas Family Solutions at 618-258-8750 and ask for a licensing worker today!