March 09, 2017 06:53 PM
State lawmakers moved forward Thursday on a bill they hope will give abused and neglected foster children a voice.
The proposal stems in part from a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation that found examples of juvenile victims forced to fend for themselves, despite state law saying they're entitled to a lawyer.
The piece featured 12-year-old McKenna Ahrenholz, who testified Thursday in front of the Minnesota House Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee.
For most of her life, McKenna was forced to shuffle between foster homes and her actual home, which she said was far worse. Despite the help of social workers and a guardian ad litem, McKenna told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS last October that no one ever explained to her that according to state law, she was entitled to her own lawyer who could make sure her voice was heard.
"I've been punched, starved and neglected, and I don't want anyone else to go through what we had to," she told lawmakers Thursday. "I think the laws need to change. The people that make the laws, like yourselves, need to hear us kids who are the ones who are going through this stuff."
Lawmakers referred the bill, authored by Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, to the Minnesota House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee. Kresha said that if passed, the bill would ensure that children like McKenna have their own lawyer.
"We need to make sure they have at least one objective legal voice to help them through the system," Kresha said, adding that he believes the bill will become law this legislative session.
McKenna had to fight for a full year before eventually getting a lawyer, and today, she lives happily with her siblings and grandparents. McKenna's hope, however, is that other children don't have to fight like she did to get the help they need.
Updated: March 09, 2017 06:53 PM
Created: March 09, 2017 03:01 PM
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