AG Districts Leading the Way in Church-based Foster Care
Two Assemblies of God districts are calling on their churches to serve children and families in the foster care system. The results are being noticed by state officials and opening doors for further partnership.In Arkansas and Oklahoma, AG churches are contracting with state agencies to recruit, equip, and support foster and adoptive families in a groundbreaking public-private partnership.
“We feel like it’s best if [fostered and adopted children] are in a Christ-centered environment,” says Jamel Crawford, compassion ministries director for the Oklahoma AG (OKAG) who is raising awareness about the opportunities for churches to be involved in child-supporting services.
The pioneering effort within the AG began with COMPACT, a national AG ministry based in Hot Springs, Arkansas, formerly known as AG Family Services, which incorporated the longstanding ministries of Hillcrest Children’s Home and Highlands Maternity Home.
In the last few years, under the leadership of national foster care director Lance Nelson, COMPACT created a model for churches to raise up foster and adoptive families, becoming the first faith-based agency to receive a foster care contract with the state department of Arkansas. COMPACT now trains families and places children in homes, supplying case workers to perform regular follow-up visits.
Its placement stability rate, foster parent retention rate, and reunification rates are all double the state’s, Nelson says. Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently asked him to serve on a task force to formulate policy on foster care for her administration.
“We have had incredible outcomes,” Nelson says. “The state of Arkansas has been so pleased with our program that they asked us to serve families across Arkansas.”
Now, COMPACT is exporting its church-based foster care model to other AG districts, starting with the OKAG, whose efforts to train and launch foster families among its 460 churches began when Darryl Wootton, the district superintendent, and wife, Faith, were installed in leadership two-and-a-half years ago.
During their previous 18 years pastoring a church in Bartlesville, the Woottons asked all members of their church to foster, adopt, or support those who were taking on those opportunities. As a result, more than 350 kids were fostered or adopted through the church during that time. Adoption also was part of Darryl’s personal story, and the Woottons have raised their own biological and adopted children.
“The church is the answer, and if one family in every church would choose to foster or adopt, then it’s a very solvable problem in Oklahoma,” Faith says.
Recently, the COMPACT's new Oklahoma based offices, in cooperation with the OKAG, signed an agreement with the state of Oklahoma to serve as a foster care agency. The Woottons speak at churches each weekend and encourage them to raise up foster and adoptive families, with the goal of having foster and adoptive families in all of the state’s 460 AG churches.
“Not everyone is called to foster or adopt, but everyone can do something,” Faith says. “We really feel that if kids in the foster system are raised in Christian churches, our next ministers and missionaries are going to come from them. They are sometimes called ‘throwaway kids,’ but we feel God has a purpose and plan for them, and the world can be changed when they come from Christian homes.”
Nelson, too, says foster care is the best way for Christians to get involved in missions work without leaving their homes.
“Foster care is the greatest missional and discipleship opportunity presented to the church in our generation,” he says. “The state is begging the church to disciple these children and offering to pay for it. All we have to do is step through the door.”
Supporting foster and adoptive families can be as simple as praying, providing respite care, donating beds and clothing, or becoming a resource for wisdom or regular meals.
Nelson says foster parents do not fit into a single demographic category but span the age range. COMPACT’s oldest foster parent is 81 and doing an incredible job raising siblings, he says. Empty-nesters also make some of the best foster parents.
COMPACT encourages its foster parents to see themselves as protectors and nurturers, but also to look for opportunities to build bridges with the biological parent or parents by befriending them or inviting them to church. The goal of foster care is to support and restore biological families when possible.
Adoption, Nelson says, is a last option when it is not safe to return children to their biological families.
The OKAG also works with a number of partners in foster care and adoption, including the Dallas, Texas,-based Backyard Orphans, an AG organization that trains families and connects them to resources all over the U.S. The OKAG district supports a full-time missionary with Backyard Orphans, Rebekah Howell, who travels and trains churches throughout the district.
With efforts in Oklahoma underway, COMPACT is talking with AG districts in at least four other states about implementing its replicable model. Churches nationwide may soon benefit from the advance work being done in Arkansas and Oklahoma.