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12-Year-Old Pushes Lawmakers To Pass Legal Protections For Foster Care Children

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A 12-year old Minnesota girl won a long fight Thursday to get legal rights for foster children like her.

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.

What McKenna didn't know: she was entitled to a lawyer, but no one told her.

After she moved in with her grandparents, she contacted a legislative Child Protection Task Force and got the attention of State Representative Ron Kresha, a Republican lawmaker from Little Falls who sits on the Task Force.

McKenna watched from a Minnesota House gallery as Kresha reading from a letter McKenna wrote.

"I have been punched, starved and neglected. And I don't want anyone else to go through that," the letter said.

Kresha introduced a bill requiring state workers in the foster care system to tell children they have legal rights, and tell them they can get a lawyer to help them. He told fellow lawmakers he knew he had to act quickly when he heard McKenna's story.

"We hear a lot about courage down here," he said. "And I will tell you, this young lady has now redefined courage for me."

McKenna's law got a rare, unanimous vote. Her family was tearful, but jubilant.

"Words don't even express how I feel ... I'm so happy," said Kathy Burland, whose home in Cyrus is where McKenna and her brothers and sisters now live. "Other kids won't have to go through what these kids did."

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