McKenna’s Law

Signed into law in May of 2017 and effective on August 1, 2017, McKenna’s Law is designed to make sure that all children in Minnesota in need of protection or services have access to adequate legal representation. Written by Senator Jerry Relph, the bill passed unanimously in both the House and Senate. The bill has been recognized as important in protecting children throughout the state of Minnesota. Senator Relph is a first-term senator who represents District 14, which includes St. August, St. Cloud, Waite Park, and other communities in Benton, Sherburne, and Stearns.

The Background of the Case

The law is named after McKenna Ahrenholtz. McKenna and her four siblings lived with their biological father who forced them to sleep on beds without sheets, wear clothes covered in dog feces, and suffer significant physical abuse. The children pleaded to be placed in foster homes but were consistently sent back home. The children were consistently told that they were required to have visits with their abusive father even though the children wanted to discontinue this relationship.

After years of living like this, McKenna learned that she and her brother and sisters had the right to an attorney. The children now live with relatives in a much-improved situation. While the children’s father denies ever physically abusing the children, the father does acknowledge that he was not always able to provide the children with their basic needs. For inspiring the creation of the new law, McKenna is slated to receive the Children’s Law Center’s Hero for Children award and is the first child to receive this accolade.

The Contents of McKenna’s Law

The elements of McKenna’s law include the following:

  • The Right to an Attorney. Children have the right to effective assistance of counsel in connection with proceedings in juvenile court. If a child desires counsel but cannot obtain a lawyer, then the court will appoint an attorney to represent the child. If the child is 10 years of age or older, within 14 days after filing a removal petition or emergency hearing, provided that the child is present, the child must be informed of his or her right to an attorney.
  • Counsel for children are prohibited from acting as guardian ad litem.
  • Children are able to waive the right to an attorney. This waiver must be done voluntarily by the child and the child must fully understand the consequences of those actions. Courts will not permit the child’s parent, other guardians legally responsible for the child, or the child’s guardian ad litem to waive the child’s right to be represented by counsel.

Contact a Skilled Attorney

McKenna’s Law has been praised by many as a significant advance for the rights of children. Now that the law is in effect, advocates of McKenna’s law are now arguing that the law does not create any funding for lawyers. If you have questions about the adoption or foster care process, the assistance of a skilled family law attorney can prove to be particularly beneficial. Contact  Tracy Lyson online at O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Foss or call 701-235-8000 or toll free at 877-235-8002.