In February 2016, McKenna Ahrenholz, a 12 year old, spoke up about Minnesota’s foster children’s right to an attorney being ignored. She didn’t know she had a right to an attorney. She didn’t know she had a say when she and her siblings were forced to spend time with their abusive father… malnourished, abused and neglected. She didn’t get an attorney after asking for one three times. But when she did get a lawyer, her life drastically improved and she is now in a loving home of her grandfather and his fiancé, along with all her siblings.
Watch her story here.
McKenna wanted to ensure that other children in her situation do not have the same experience. So, during the 2017 Minnesota’s legislative session, McKenna’s Law was passed. The law now states that when a 10+ year old child is removed from home and placed in foster care, the social workers shall inform the child of the child’s right to the represented by a lawyer and of the child’s right to personally attend court hearings. The law also provides that only the child can waive their right to be represented by a lawyer, and only after an opportunity to talk to a lawyer first.
McKenna’s Law goes into effect on August 1, 2017.
Unfortunately, due to limited resources allocated to the State Public Defenders and Children’s Law Center to represent all eligible children, we do not know how this law will be fully implemented.