(Minnesota) “McKenna’s Law“, named for now 13-year-old McKenna Ahrenholz, who has been involved in the foster care system due to neglect and abuse, requires social workers to inform foster children who are 10 and older that they have a right to an attorney and they can’t waive that right without speaking with one first.
McKenna’s Law was unanimously passed into law into May 2017, and will officially come into effect on August 1st 2017.
McKenna’s Law is now facing a challenge that could impact the children it is intending to protect,”..with no way of knowing how many children will want legal representation, lawmakers couldn’t pinpoint a funding figure. So the measure passed without allotting any extra resources to the public defenders who will ultimately be doing the job...” This means there may not be enough public defenders to represent children needing legal representation.
The State of Minnesota could face a class action lawsuit if children who are eligible for an attorney and want one are turned away. It’s against the law not to give a child 10 and older, involved in CPS proceedings, an attorney if they ask for one.
Source KSTP News, Katherine Johson: Law to Inform Foster Children of their Rights Could Overwhelm Public Defenders
** BE A VOICE FOR MCKENNA’S LAW: HOW YOU CAN HELP **
The Children’s Law Center is actively looking for volunteer attorneys to offer their services to help execute the law the way it was intended.
For more information, or to donate to the Children’s Law Center, follow this link: Children’s Law Center Minnesota
Or contact CLC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional Thoughts: In the video posted above, Rep Ron Kresha (R) reads a letter written by McKenna Ahrenholz who describes the hellish life of abuse and neglect that she, and her siblings, have experienced at the hands of her parents.
McKenna says that CPS and the social service system failed to protect her.McKenna says she pleaded with the Guardian ad Litem, social workers and county attorney for help but no one would listen. McKenna and her siblings were taken into foster care only to be returned home, where she was beaten, starved, and forced to live in unsanitary conditions.
“McKenna Ahrenholz complained to state social workers and her guardian ad litem she did not want to leave foster care and return home to her father.
‘My dad abused us, and he wouldn’t feed us,’ said McKenna, who met her grandparents for the first time in 2014 and now lives with them. ‘We would just eat on the floor with boxes as our table, and eat off a box.’
McKenna says she and her siblings bounced in an out of foster care, but often ended up back at home because, she says, no one would listen to her.
‘We’d be like, ‘No, we don’t want to go home! Why do you have to take us home?’ And they were like ‘Oh, he’s perfectly fine, there’s nothing wrong with him,” she said.” Source: 12-Year-Old Pushes Lawmakers To Pass Legal Protections For Foster Care Children/
Only when McKenna was able to obtain an attorney did she have a voice in court, and a means to advocate for herself.
McKenna is now safe, and living with her grandparents. However, McKenna has to endure another trauma because she has been court ordered into visitation with her father. McKenna refuses to visit, but unless the court takes action to protect her, she will continue to be at risk.
How can it be that children taken into state care, the most vulnerable members of society, are not being provided with legal representation… when the State of Minnesota has given an ample budget to afford legal representation for the Guardian ad Litems?
This blog applauds the work, and efforts of GALs who truly are working to make a positive difference in the lives of children. Your example, and your compassion, is desperately needed in the system.
However, those GALs who are violating their mandated duties or whose actions endanger the lives of children should not be protected with legal counsel, nor afforded immunity (as they currently have). It is outrageous that due to the failures of one GAL that McKenna and her siblings were sent to live in an abusive, unsafe home and physical and mentally harmed as a result… and while she is fighting for an attorney, the State of Minnesota has already provided legal representation to the GAL who is enabling the abuse to continue!
The NCSC study found that the Minnesota GAL program is heavily utilizing attorney representation and consultation on cases in a way that does not serve children but rather, is to meet the needs of Guardians or the program, itself.
(p. 27),”Through interviews and a review of budget information, NCSC found a wide range across the districts in the expenditures for attorney consultation and representation, and a range that didn’t correlate with children served.
Some interviewees and survey respondents suggested that districts that rely heavily on volunteers use a disproportionate amount of attorney consultation and representation.
However, it should be noted that in the 4th District, it has been the policy of the Juvenile Court bench that an attorney be assigned to the GAL for the trial. For FY 2012-2016, approximately $2.3 million was spent on attorney consultations and representation in all ten districts. Approximately $1.5 million of that was spent in the 2nd and 4th Districts.” Minnesota Guardian ad Litem Program Offers “Treats” in Exchange for Cash, Volunteers