This Week in AG History -- Jan. 26, 1975
In 1946, the Assemblies of God began operating Hillcrest Children’s Home in Hot Springs, Arkansas, to provide a safe place for children who were unable to remain in their family home. Over the next several years, it became apparent that some children might be better served in a foster family or adoptive home rather than an institutionalized group home setting.
In 1959, the General Council approved a resolution “that the Department of Benevolence be encouraged to continue to broaden its program of childcare through the establishing of child placement and adoption agencies at such a time as is deemed feasible, and practical.” This paved the way for the establishment of Highlands Child Placement Services and Maternity Home.
In 1963, Mrs. D.G. Danley donated her three-story, 40-room mansion in Kansas City, Missouri, to the Assemblies of God without restriction. Much renovation was needed before it was ready for children, but churches and individuals, under the direction of the first administrator, James W. Strayer, had it ready for occupancy by June 1966, naming it Highlands Children’s Home, after the Highlands neighborhood in which the building stood.
Strayer came to Hillcrest in Hot Springs to identify children who wanted to live with families and who were legally free to be adopted. Five girls and four boys – ranging in age from 7 to 12 – were transferred from Hot Springs to Kansas City and welcomed by a team of houseparents. In February of 1967 the first Highlands child was placed in a foster home and, that spring, the first legal adoption took place. More than 250 Assemblies of God families made application to take a child into their home during that year.
In 1969, the new administrator, Vernon Cooper, expanded Highlands’ vision to also include prenatal care to unmarried pregnant women and assistance in helping them with options for their future. In 1970, the General Presbytery of the Assemblies of God decided to place more emphasis on child placement rather than replicating the in-house services of the home in Hot Springs. To achieve these visions, a new facility was built in 1972 that was more suitable for housing pregnant women while still serving as offices for the adoption agency. The name was changed to Highlands Child Placement Services.
In the Jan. 26, 1975, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel, Cooper wrote an article, “Our Children Need Love,” in which he stated that the functions of the home included “placing children for adoption and foster care and working with unmarried mothers.” By this time, Highlands had placed more than 300 children in adoptive homes and served nearly 200 unwed mothers with medical service, counseling, education, and a safe home in which to adjust to the changes of pregnancy. Adoptive families fees provided 25% of the funding, and the other 75% came from donations by Assemblies of God churches and laypersons.
More changes came in later years. A second group home for young women was added in 1984, with most of the mothers ranging in age from 14 through 21, with an average age of 17. In 1990, it was reported that over 700 women had gone through the program with 550 releasing their children for adoption, and the remaining mothers receiving education and assistance in preparing to parent their babies.
In 1992, a toll-free pregnancy-counseling hotline was opened to help women in crisis pregnancies, and in 1993, a home was begun on the 10-acre campus to house pregnant women who already had other children so that they could receive help during their pregnancy without needing to relinquish custody of their older children.
Administrator Robert Michels reported, “we don’t tell the girls or their families what to do. We help them ask questions of themselves and others and make a decision on their goals, on what they want to do. We give them the supportive atmosphere they need in which to decide.” Abortion was never an option offered through the services of Highlands, whose leadership stated their belief that “abortion is death. We talk about life.”
In 2006, after placing over 3,000 children in adoptive homes, Highlands relocated to the 62-acre campus of Hillcrest Children’s Home in Hot Springs and continued its emphasis on providing help and hope for pregnant women and a safe place for children.
In 2018, the decision was made to restructure the Highlands adoption program to better serve children under new laws affecting adoption placement with its placement services shifting to providing a consultation and support service for singles or adoptive couples at any point in their adoption journey. This shift allowed Highlands to continue ministering to a larger demographic of the Assemblies of God. Highlands is also able to facilitate adoptions in Missouri and Arkansas. It is anticipated that several other states will be added in the near future. The maternity home remains in Hot Springs while the adoption networking agency is based in Springfield, Missouri.
While the needs and responses of Highlands Child Placement Services have evolved over the years, the mission remains the same as that stated by Vernon Cooper, the author of the 1975 article and administrator of Highlands for more than 20 years: “We cannot ignore the needs of our society. We must realize God has placed us here in a unique position for ministry. We must reach out to those in need – care for them and love them. It’s what God would have us do and with his help we will do the very best we can.”
Read the article, “Our Children Need Love,” on page 23 of the Jan. 26, 1975, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “Is Jesus Really Coming Back?” by Ian McPherson
• “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem” by C.M. Ward
And many more!