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Support for foster children: Cyrus girl leads in legislation

McKenna Ahrenholz has spent a good portion of her life looking out for her siblings. Recently, she's spent a good portion of her days helping fellow and future foster kids have a better path through the system.

According to copies of court records, Ahrenholz, 12, spent years shuffling through inadequate parental care, and through a foster system until one day she discovered she had a right to a lawyer. But no one ever told her that. Ahrenholz knew that was wrong. What child is going to know they can have a lawyer?

On May 11, Ahrenholz's work resulted in the Minnesota Senate passing a bill that will ensure kids like her will get their lawyer. The bill had passed the Minnesota House about a month prior to the Senate's approval. The legislation will require that kids 10 and up will be told they can have a lawyer.

"We did it," Ahrenholz's custodial grandmother Kathy Burland said.

"I was just so happy," Ahrenholz said about seeing the vote tally appear in the Senate.

Ahrenholz has testified before the Minnesota State Legislature to advocate for a change in the law to make it mandatory to appoint a lawyer for a child in the state's foster care system. The bill was championed by Rep. Ron Kresha, R- Little Falls.

"I'm really mad no one thought of this before," Ahrenholz's sister Morgan said in a Sun Tribune interview earlier this spring. "If it (la awyer) happened before it would be way better."

As it was, without a lawyer and with a governmental system that included public health, guardian ad litems, social workers and others, Ahrenholz and her siblings, older brother Jacob and younger sisters Morgan, Jesslyn and Riley, said they spent far too long in the home of their father.

Today, they live with their paternal grandfather Todd Thimmesch and his wife Burland, the woman they call grandma. The couple lives in Cyrus. They've been the foster parents for the siblings since March 2015.

"That's when we first moved in with them," Ahrenholz said. "They were there when we got off the bus."

The journey to Cyrus was a long one that Ahrenholz, her siblings and Burland said was an unfortunate one they hope no other child has to face.

The bill that passed the Senate and the House is expected to be signed by Governor Mark Dayton in June and July, Burland said.

Burland said she and Thimmesch are so proud of Ahenholz's courage and willingness to testify in the House and Senate.