COMPACT Expands Ministry Reach
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In his job leading COMPACT, the national child welfare agency of the Assemblies of God based in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Bixler oversees 90 employees in Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Part of Bixler’s ongoing mission is providing pastoral care and shepherding to those who work in the high-intensive ministry.
Bixler’s involvement with COMPACT extends back nearly three decades ago, when he and his wife, Heather, served as youth pastors at Legacy Church in Hot Springs. At the time, almost half the kids in the youth group lived at the Hillcrest Children’s Home in the city.
Still, it’s been a steep learning curve for Bixler, as he leads an agency involved in the ever-changing task of providing welfare to foster kids and families. Bixler, 53, is building on the legacy left by Jay Mooney, who spent a decade heading COMPACT before returning last year to the AG national office in Springfield, Missouri, in the newly created position of chief ministries and resources officer.
As he’s familiarized himself with the ins and outs of the operation of the ministry, Bixler also is ensuring that COMPACT stays relevant to its mission while meeting stricter government standards resulting from the 2018 Family First Protection Act. Rather than the focus, residential care is becoming just one of the services provided as COMPACT expands its foster care, adoption, and family-assistance programs. Until recently, two children could live in a room in a cottage; now each child must have his or her own room, which means there can only be a maximum of six kids per cottage. There are 35 kids living on the 52-acre campus. At one time, more than 100 children lived in long-term residential care. The current residential program is considered short term, as COMPACT assists efforts for permanent placement in either adoption or foster care.
One niche COMPACT is filling is providing residential care for developmentally disabled children and youth. A cottage for six kids opened in 2020 and a second facility for seven residents is set to open this month now that qualified staff have been hired and trained. COMPACT is the only agency in the state of Arkansas serving developmentally disabled kids through residential foster care.
“Some of these kids have been in the system a very long time and they are among the most vulnerable children in the nation,” Bixler says. “These include nonverbal autistic, deaf, and Down syndrome children.”
Increasingly, Bixler sees the goal of COMPACT as working to keep families intact.
“Foster care is the outcome of a broken family,” Bixler says. “We want to redeem families through compassionate action — which is our name: COMPACT. If we can move upstream to being preventative, then we won’t have a foster care problem. We’d love to put ourselves out of business in the foster arena.”
COMPACT recently incorporated operations in Oklahoma as a child placement agency and is opening an office in Oklahoma City, with placements expected to begin in the Sooner State as early as July. In Missouri, the ministry is in discussion with the state for private license placements. At its home base of Arkansas, data indicate foster parents connected with COMPACT, because of its support system, stay an average of 40% longer than those unaffiliated with the agency.
In the short term, COMPACT is hopeful of impending direct foster care/adoption work in at least four other states. Eventually, Bixler says, the ministry wants to form operative relationships in all 66 AG districts/networks.
One of the major changes at COMPACT is revamping of the Highlands Maternity Home program. Ashley Grant oversaw the home from 2011-15, when as many as 15 unwed mothers lived on site. Because of law changes, the only such minors now permitted on campus are pregnant teens in state custody.
These days, Grant, 34, is Missouri programs director and Highlands adoption director. Her duties include overseeing COMPACT’s Missouri F.I.N.D. (Friends, Individuals, Neighbors, and Devotees) program, designed to reunite foster kids with a relative or someone with a kinship relationship.
“We use different websites and search tools for kids who need placement,” says Grant, who has four children of her own, ranging in age from 4 to 11. “We are trying to build a support system for these children, some of whom have been stuck in foster care for years.”
Through F.I.N.D., COMPACT has been able to facilitate a permanent placement for two-thirds of these children. Another 10% have connected with a concerned adult willing to take the child in for holidays or respite visits.
The F.I.N.D. program has been active in Missouri since 2018 and in Arkansas since 2020. In her efforts to build relationships for these kids, Grant — who has cared for nine foster children herself — has found an average of 70 different connections per child.
“Over half of these kids have come back into the system after a failed adoption,” Grant says. Some of the youth can’t live in a group home because they are sexual offenders or have some other legal issue involved.
Meanwhile, Grant, like Bixler, believes it is imperative that Christians open their homes.
“So many of these kids have moved from house to house,” Grant says. “The number of multiple placements is really sad.”
“Our churches have the answer, because our churches have families,” Bixler says.
As COMPACT has deemphasized residential care in revising its mission and methods with changing times, the agency has assisted in 35 adoptions in the past year and a half. Most of those families earlier had been foster parents, but once they adopt a child, they typically cease foster care. So COMPACT is continually on the lookout for prospective foster parents.
Bixler credits his predecessor Jay Mooney with having the foresight to negotiate contracts with government agencies for caring for children while still maintaining biblical standards.
“We are not an organization just in one location anymore,” Bixler says. “We either had to advance or close our operations in the residential space.”
Part of Bixler’s job is traveling to churches to explain the COMPACT model and needs. He notes that nearly 80% of kids removed from their home of origin eventually return.
“We understand that the Church is the pinnacle of support for this ministry to redeem families for Christ,” says Bixler, who also is director of the AG Foster Care Network. “As we expand, we’re looking at trying more to fulfill the compassion pillar of the Assemblies of God.”
The AG Foster Care Network will hold its second annual conference in Dallas Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.
“This is a wonderful place for church and district leaders to see what ministries operate in these spaces and how to get involved,” Bixler says.
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