While CASA of Grant County plays an integral role in the safety and security of children in need across Marion and surrounding areas, the organization would not be able to do its work without Grant Superior Court 2 Judge Dana Kenworthy.
A graduate of Oak Hill, Ball State University, and IU Law School, Kenworthy has served as the judge for Grant Superior Court 2 since 2010. Before that, she worked as a deputy prosecutor for 10 years, trying cases mostly centered around domestic violence, juvenile delinquency, sex crimes, child abuse, and neglect.
However, throughout her career in law, her heart has always been with children. As both a prosecutor and a judge, Kenworthy has dedicated her life to ensuring all children, regardless of upbringing or circumstances, are able to live fulfilling lives in a loving and caring environment.
“For me, the drive was to assist people needing help,” Kenworthy said. “Typically, victims of crime – children and families going through tough situations— that is where my calling is.”
Grant Superior Court 2 oversees all the child welfare cases. As a prosecutor, Kenworthy would prosecute the crime itself, but rarely was able to connect with any of the families involved in those cases. As a judge, however, she feels she is able to do more to assist children in getting the help that they require.
“In this role, I get to ensure that kids and families get what they need in order to re-unify or find other permanency for the kids if reunification is not possible,” Kenworthy said. “Kids in crisis have been my niche for a long time, and this particular court was very appealing to me.”
As the judge of Grant Superior Court 2, Kenworthy has worked diligently alongside CASA of Grant County and Executive Director Leslie Hendricks. In fact, Kenworthy was the President of the CASA of Grant County Board of Directors when Hendricks was hired.
While all of the employees and volunteers at CASA are dedicated to their work, Kenworthy stated that Hendricks’ love for children, and her heart for CASA of Grant County’s mission, plays a significant role in the organizations’ success.
“She has worked, tremendously, to grow that agency,” Kenworthy said. “They went from an office of two to an office of multiple staff that she supervises. I’ve gotten to know her very well. She definitely feels these cases to her core. Her heart is in this work, and it’s as strong now as it was in day one. She’ll give 110 percent for these kids, and she’s an effective director.”
In the courtroom, it is Kenworthy’s obligation to appoint CASAs to represent children in all CHIN, or Child in Need of Services, and termination of parental rights cases. While parents have a right to counsel, children do not always have that same luxury. CASAs provide that steady voice of reassurance, while also advocating for the child’s best interests.
“The role of CASA of Grant County is to be the voice of the children,” Kenworthy added. “Parents have their own representation in court, but kids usually don’t. Kids should not have to come into court and get on the witness stand and testify about every little thing. That can be really traumatic. CASAs can be that voice for them, and advocate for their needs.
“The system is here for the protection of children. If the children don’t have a voice in that system designed to protect them, then the system is going to veer off course. We need CASAs to continue to speak for those kids who shouldn’t have to speak for themselves.”
While this work is essential, there are a lot of days that are tough, upsetting, and draining.
However, for Kenworthy, the end result—a child in an environment that allows them to thrive and grow—is what inspires her each and every day.
“It can be heartbreaking at times, but I have found that kids are incredibly resilient,” Kenworthy said. “Kids are inspirational. If you pay attention, kids have hearts as big as the universe. Their capacity to love is immense. It’s not limited.
“To see kids come from really dire circumstances and land in a safe, secure, loving, and nurturing home, is essentially what drives me to do this job.”