Pressing Issues

McKenna’s Law

In February 2016, McKenna Ahrenholz, a 12 year old, spoke up about Minnesota’s foster children’s right to an attorney being ignored.  She didn’t know she had a right to an attorney.  She didn’t know she had a say when she and her siblings were forced to spend time with their abusive father… malnourished, abused and neglected.  She didn’t get an attorney after asking for one three times.  But when she did get a lawyer, her life drastically improved and she is now in a loving home of her grandfather and his fiancé, along with all her siblings.

Watch her story here.

McKenna wanted to ensure that other children in her situation do not have the same experience.  So, during the 2017 Minnesota’s legislative session, McKenna’s Law was passed.  The law now states that when a 10+ year old child is removed from home and placed in foster care, the social workers shall inform the child of the child’s right to the represented by a lawyer and of the child’s right to personally attend court hearings.  The law also provides that only the child can waive their right to be represented by a lawyer, and only after an opportunity to talk to a lawyer first.

McKenna’s Law goes into effect on August 1, 2017.

Unfortunately, due to limited resources allocated to the State Public Defenders and Children’s Law Center to represent all eligible children, we do not know how this law will be fully implemented.



Governor Dayton signed new juvenile and criminal records expungement legislation into law on  May 14, 2014. The new law will go into effect Jan. 1, 2015. Designed to help individuals rebuild their lives after contact with the criminal justice system, the legislation will provide expungement relief for Minnesotans pursuing a second chance, often long after they have been held accountable for their actions.

The legislation provides specific remedies, including clarifying juvenile delinquency expungement, extending sealing powers to the executive branch, requiring private screening services to delete expunged records, and protecting employers and landlords from liability based upon an expungement.

The most important aspects for those seeking an expungement are:

1.  The following executive branch (as well as judicial branch) records may be sealed if the petitioner shows by clear and convincing evidence that their need for an expungement outweighs any public safety concerns: 1) diversion and stay of adjudication records 1 year after completion of sentence if crime free; 2) petty misdemeanor and misdemeanor records 2 years after completion of sentence if crime free; 3) gross misdemeanors 4 years after completion of sentence if crime free (domestic abuse related offenses not eligible until July 2015); and 4) most nonviolent felonies that are level 1 or 2 on the sentencing guidelines 5 years after completion of sentence if crime free. Click here for a list of eligible felonies.

2.  All records related to juvenile delinquency can be expunged.

3.  Requires private business screening services to delete expunged records.






Congress Passes Key Foster Care Education Bill


The recently enacted Uninterrupted Scholars Act (USA) successfully amended the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), that acted as a barrier to child protection agencies receiving foster children’s educational records without parental consent.  To protect the control a parent has over their child’s school records, FERPA prohibited distribution of Department of Education funds to educational agencies that released a student’s education records without parental consent. The law failed to recognize situations when government agencies have temporary custody of foster children and caseworkers need to obtain school records to make decisions about foster children’s educational needs.

Minnesota law currently requires a county to ensure a foster child’s educational stability while in foster care which includes obtaining a foster child’s school records.  Prior to passage of USA, federal law prohibited case workers from getting school records in child protection cases when parents refused to sign a release of school records. Under USA, case workers, state and local child welfare representatives and tribal organizations are authorized to receive a student’s educational records under a court order issued in the context of the child protection proceeding without consent or notification to a parent involved in such proceeding.

This is a victory for foster youth who are oftentimes forced to repeatedly change schools. We are hopeful that this new law will help foster children transition more smoothly to new schools, because efficient transfer of school records will prevent delays in enrollment which in turn result in lost credits, stalled academic progress and grade repetition.

Tips for Helping Children and Teens Before and After Visitation

If the Courts deem it physically and emotionally safe, many children and teens in the foster care system will have Court-ordered, regularly scheduled visits with birth parents, siblings, and other family members. Visits are intended to help children and birth family members maintain and strengthen their relationships during a time of separation.  However, without the proper preparation before a visit, or appropriate support following a visit, this can be a challenging experience for all involved. Click here for tips on how you can support your clients with birth family visits.

The Effects of Traumatic Stress on the Developing Brain

By CLC Staff Social Workers Weida Allen and Rachel Ayoub

9.13.2012- In recent years, many in the helping professions have begun to recognize the significant impact that trauma has on the lives of people, especially young people.  Trauma comes in many forms, but is defined as events occurring outside of the normal human experience.  Trauma occurs when a child experiences an intense event that threatens or causes harm to his or her emotional or physical well-being. When children live through a traumatic experience, they react in both physiological and psychological ways.

A growing body of research has uncovered the pervasive and detrimental effects of traumatic stress on the developing brain. The majority of brain development is completed during the first five years of life, with the most critical development occurring within the first two years. Brain structures responsible for regulating emotion, memory and behavior develop rapidly during the formative years and are very sensitive to damage from the effects of emotional or physical stress, including stress from abuse or neglect. Children who have been exposed to one or more traumatic events over the course of their lives may develop reactions that can affect their daily functioning long after the traumatic events have ended. Be aware of the ways in which traumatic events have impacted the young people in your life, and seek trauma-informed therapy to address issues that persist and continue to impact their daily functioning.

CLC clients have almost certainly experienced trauma in their lives.  CLC volunteer attorneys have a responsibility to attempt to understand the hurdles their clients have faced in the past, are currently facing and will face in the future.  Child clients who have experienced traumatic events and function in a persistent state of fear and may exhibit behavioral challenges such as impulsivity, hyper-vigilance, hyperactivity, withdrawal from reality, depression, sleep difficulties and anxiety.  These behavioral challenges can often be misdiagnosed as various conduct disorders.  Misdiagnosis leads to improper treatment. Because of this, the child client may never get treated for the real problem, which is the trauma.  To become a more effective advocate, volunteer attorneys need to be aware of the trauma their clients have experienced, and how that has shaped who their client is. With that knowledge, CLC volunteer attorneys can help ensure that their clients are receiving the necessary mental health treatments to remedy their true problems.

Additional Resources:

Foster Youth & Identity Theft

Youth in foster care are a vulnerable class when it comes to identity theft.  They may become victims at the hands of their care providers or family members who have access to their personal information.  Often these youth have no knowledge that they are victims of identity theft until after they are adults. Providing foster youth with access to their credit information, guidance in interpreting that information, and ensuring appropriate changes and corrections are made can help guarantee that identity theft does not hinder their success once they begin living independently.

New Legislation

Recently new legislation has been adopted to aide in protecting foster youth from identity theft.  The “Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act” added an entirely new section to 42 U.S.C. 675(5) concerning foster youth ID theft.  The language provides that:

“[E]ach child in foster care under the responsibility of the State who has attained 16 years of age receives without cost a copy of any consumer report (as defined in section 603(d) of the Fair Credit Reporting Act) pertaining to the child each year until the child is discharged from care, and receives assistance (including, when feasible, from any court-appointed advocated for the child) in interpreting and resolving any inaccuracies in the report.”

The Act’s effective date is October 1, 2011.  As a result CLC attorneys will need to pay special attention to their older clients’ credit history. The law provides that attorneys are responsible for going through reports with their client’s and seeing to it that any and all inaccuracies contained in those reports are corrected.  Any relevant court action will be in the hands of attorneys appointed by the court.

As mentioned in our April 2011 practice point, “Identity Theft and Your Client,” CLC feels it is important that you counsel your client on how to prevent, detect and recover from identity theft. Identity theft issues can be complex, expensive and time consuming.  As a result, CLC envisions that its volunteer attorneys will be particularly proactive and persistent when working with the court and social service agencies on this issue. Please note the following link to CLC’s practice point on this issue:  April 2011 Practice Point

Please contact CLC with any questions on addressing the issue of identity theft with your clients.

Higher Education for Foster Youth


“Foster children are one of the most educationally vulnerable populations in our schools”(1).

Barton Allen and James Vacca, in their recent study about the negative academic effects of frequent moves on foster children assert this claim, citing that foster youth are not given equal opportunities for academic achievement and that many are not encouraged to pursue higher education.

During their time in care, foster children, on average, are moved through three different placements (2). These moves can happen with little or no warning and often force a child to change school districts, leaving their friends, teachers, and coaches behind. A 2000 study of foster children in New York found that 65% had transferred schools mid-year (3).

Transferring schools presents roadblocks to any child, but especially to those children who transfer frequently or in the middle of an academic calendar. Missing school records can cause delays in school registration and force children to remain out of school for days or weeks. Transfers also require children to adapt to new teachers and schoolmates, and a curriculum that may differ considerably from their previous school.

These obstacles have a harmful effect on educational outcomes. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, students who change schools frequently are more likely to have poor test scores, repeat a grade, or drop out than those who have consistent and stable education.  Moreover, studies have shown that compared to non-foster youth, foster children have higher rates of grade repetition, absenteeism, truancy, and tardiness, and lower standardized test scores (4). Seventy-five percent of foster youth are behind grade level (5).

The statistics are just as grim for those foster care youth hoping to pursue higher education. Frequent transfers and frustration with school result in disengagement and dropping out. Only 46% of foster youth complete high school, compared to 84% of the general population(6). Furthermore, 70% of foster youth report that they want to attend college, but fewer than 10% of those who graduate from high school enroll in college and of those, less than 1% graduate from college (7).

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

  1. Allen, B. & Vacca, J. (2009). Frequent moving has a negative affect on the school achievement of foster children. Children and Youth Services Review, 32, 829-932.
  2. US Dept. of Health and Human Services AFCARS report, 2003
  3. Advocates for Children of New York, Inc., 2000, p. 5
  4. Martin, J. (2003). Foster youth desire college, study shows, but face roadblocks to learning, Washington University in St. Louis Newsroom
  5. Barriers Facing Foster Youth Statistics, Honoring Emancipated Youth
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.


In Miranda v. Arizona, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution’s guarantee against self-incrimination required police to warn criminal suspects who are in custody and subject to interrogation about their rights to remain silent and to consult with an attorney. In subsequent opinions, the U.S. Supreme Court clarified that whether a suspect was “in custody” for Miranda purposes depended on the objective circumstances of the interrogation, and whether a reasonable person would have felt free to leave.

On June 16, 2011, in J. D. B. v. North Carolina the U.S. Supreme Court held that juveniles are entitled to expanded Miranda protection. In this 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court explains that a reasonable child may feel pressured to submit to police questioning where a reasonable adult feels free to end an interrogation. Therefore, although it may not be determinative, a juvenile suspect’s age is a factor police must consider when deciding whether to give a Miranda warning.

Did You Know?

Many Minnesota foster youth don’t know what it’s like to live in a family home.

  • According to the US Department of Health and Human Services state by state data on child welfare for 2009, Minnesota has the second highest percent in the country of residential treatment and group home placements. Also of Minnesota children 12 or younger who entered foster care, 17 % were placed in a group home or residential treatment center.
  • A recent report by First Star and Children’s Advocacy Institute aptly reminds us how difficult it can be for children who grow up in group homes or institutions to lead normal adult lives. The report states that “An estimated 40% of foster children fourteen and older live in group homes or other institutionalized settings where their caretakers are often poorly paid shift workers. Such a setting leaves these young people — who have been dropped into a world full of unknowns — without the connections, familiarity and supports that other children take for granted. Furthermore, and particularly for children who live their teen years in group homes, these youth do not benefit from normal growing-up experiences. As one report notes, “[m]any youth in group care never see an adult pay bills, fill out income tax forms, arrange for car insurance, or undertake the dozens of other mundane tasks required to run a household.” The Fleecing of Foster Children: How We Confiscate Their Assets and Undermine Their Financial Security, 2011.

Homeless Youth Numbers Increase in Minnesota

Wilder Research Homelessness in Minnesota 2009 research found:

There was a 25% increase in homelessness for young adults 18-21 from 2006–2009.

  • 24% of youth slept outside at least one night in October ’09
  • 46% report a serious mental illness
  • 45% have been physically or sexually mistreated
  • 64% had experienced a placement such as a foster home, group home, detention facility or treatment center

The number of shelter beds for homeless youth under 17 has remained the same since 2003.

Youth who age out of the foster care system face new & formidable challenges.

In a recent Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth aged 23-24, Mark Courtney et al. found some startling statistics:

  • 84% of former foster youth reported holding a job since leaving foster care, but only 48% were currently employed (or 52% if excluding the 45 young men currently incarcerated).
  • More than 75% of the young women in this Midwest study reported ever being pregnant, of whom 66.6% had been pregnant more than once.
  • 61% of young men in the study reported impregnating a female partner (compared to the 28% of a national sample of young men aged 23-24).
  • Only 60% of young women and 58% of young men were either working or enrolled in school.
  • Only 6% of those surveyed had a 2- or 4-year degree, but nearly 1/3 had completed one year of college.

Courtney, M., Dworsky, A., Lee, J., & Raap, M. (2009) Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Outcomes at age 23 and 24. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.