Chuck Ludwig is CARE House’s class clown, and it’s a rare day that passes without hearing his jokes and his laughter at those some jokes echoing through the halls. He is,
by his own admission, still something of a kid at heart (“Sometimes adults drive me crazy,” he admits) which is one of the reasons he has such an affinity for working with kids.
“I grew up in a great and very positive environment,” he explains, “and as I got my education and began to see the hurdles kids in the system have to overcome, and the way the system is set up, I really saw the lack of creativity in the way we solve problems.”
Chuck began working with kids as an employee of the Oakland County Family Juvenile Court in 1969, first in the Court’s Youth Assistance’s program before becoming Chief of Adoption and Intake Services the late 1980s. It was in this position when, a few years later, Chuck met with CARE House and the Greater Detroit Section of the National Council of Jewish Women to discuss establishing a CASA program in Oakland County.
CASA, standing for Court Appointed Special Advocate, is a national program that helps children who have become wards of the Court after being removed from their homes. The CASA is a trained volunteer whom the Family Court assigns to work with a child in foster care.
Foster care can be a tumultuous experience, and children in the system are often separated from their siblings, shuttled between multiple homes and care centers, and have to deal with a merry-go-round of lawyers, counselors and case workers. CASA volunteers remain assigned to their children until they leave foster care (through reunification with their families, adoption, or by aging out of the system) and provide a valuable source of consistency, guidance and support. Additionally, they are trained to advocate in Court on behalf of the child, and to lead and mediate discussions with the families and guardians of their assigned children, helping to progress the reunification process.
Though the Court declined to start a program after those initial discussions, Chuck continued to believe in the viability of the CASA program in Oakland County. After retiring from the Court in 2000 to work at a foster care and adoption agency, he learned that CARE House would be launching a CASA program which officially began in 2002, with Chuck as its Director.
Chuck leads regular 13-week sessions of the CASA training program throughout the year, during which he forms strong connections with the volunteers. “I get to know these people during the training,” he says, “and I start to see what kind of cases they can be involved in. I think we’ve been very successful in matching children and cases with advocates. In addition to assigning CASA volunteers to cases, Chuck provides information and support, and helps to facilitate communication between advocates and the Court.
It’s an incredible amount of work, but Chuck never seems to want for energy. He’s CARE House’s number one fan of the Detroit Tigers, whose games he attends with his wife Carol, and he likes to stay active and go bike riding, is an avid home cook, and enjoys spending time with his five kids and four grandkids.
After fifteen years of running the program, Chuck continues to believe in the necessity of the CASA program for Oakland County’s children. “When we look at trauma for children,” he says, “consistency is one of the qualities the child most needs. What if that person was in foster care for one, two, three years? Knowing the changes in the system and the changes a child goes through, that is the difference a CASA can make.”