Our Story | Agenda for Children

Our Story

Agenda for Children was founded in 1984 by a multi-racial group of dedicated community advocates to create an independent voice for Louisiana’s children. Judy Watts, one of the co-founders, was tapped to lead the organization.

A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Watts attended Wellesley and Newcomb colleges. She moved to New Orleans in 1961, operated the Teacher Resource Service, directed the Sarah Allen Childcare Center and then moved to St. Mark’s Community Center, where Executive Director David Billings hired her to work on her vision for high-quality child care. While at St. Mark’s, she created a training program for day care providers and a resource and referral center for parents.

It was through this work that Judy became known as a fierce advocate for children and grew Agenda to be the state’s first and largest child advocacy organization. Former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, one of a handful of women serving in the Louisiana Legislature when Judy was in Baton Rouge, once stated that “Judy Watts was one of the early clarion voices for children in the State Capitol.”

Her leadership led Agenda to work on child care issues but she was equally passionate about juvenile-justice reform, early childhood education, child abuse prevention and foster care. Watts retired in 2010 and died in 2015, but evidence of her loving legacy can be found in the smiling faces of the countless Louisiana children whose lives she positively impacted through her determined struggle on their behalf.

In 2018 and in honor of the City’s tricentennial, Judy was honored with 299 other New Orleanians, including co-founder and long-time board member Linetta Gilbert, as one of the 300 individuals who made New Orleans New Orleans.

Agenda for Children


NOEEN City Seats Millage

New Orleans voters approve a millage that dedicates up to $21M annually for early care and education for the next twenty years.


Hurricane Ida Recovery

Agenda for Children and the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children raise over $700,000 to make over 500 Hurricane Ida recovery grants directly to early care and education providers.

Jen Roberts becomes CEO

Upon Dr. Recasner’s retirement, Jen Roberts becomes the third CEO in Agenda’s history.




Agenda works closely with partners to push for policies to support the early care and education sector throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.


Ready Start Network

NOEEN becomes a Ready Start Network, enabling it to further develop local funding and resources for early childhood education quality and access.

New Orleans Collaborative for  Early Childhood Research

Agenda partners with Tulane University and NOLA Public Schools to launch the New Orleans Collaborative for  Early Childhood Research (CECR) to study early care and education issues in New Orleans.


The Early Childhood Opportunity Fund is created. The fund has re-granted over $1.7 million since its inception.


Jen Roberts Becomes NOEEN’s Founding Executive Director

After an extensive search, Jennifer “Jen” Roberts is selected as the first Executive Director of the New Orleans Early Education Network (NOEEN).

City Seats

The City of New Orleans provides funding to launch the City Seats program, providing free high-quality early care and education to 50 children in its first year.


New Orleans Early Education Network

Agenda for Children becomes the lead agency for the New Orleans Early Education Network.


Act 3

Act 3 changes virtually every aspect of Louisiana’s early care and education system, creating a new rating system and local governance structures.


Bridge to Quality

The Bridge to Quality program, which provided materials, training and intensive coaching to child care centers, becomes a part of Agenda’s programming.

Dr. Recasner becomes CEO

Dr. Anthony “Tony” Recasner, founder of the first charter school in New Orleans, becomes the organization’s second CEO.


Judy Watts retires

Judy Watts, founding CEO, retires.


Louisiana EITC

Louisiana becomes the first state in the Deep South to pass a refundable Earned Income Tax Credit.


Rebuild Child Care Collaborative

Agenda convene early childhood stakeholders to operate a program that directly helps centers rebuild or expand after Hurricane Katrina.


Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Standard

Agenda partners with Wider Opportunities for Women to produce the Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Standard, which calculated what it took to make ends meet in each of Louisiana’s 64 parishes.

Juvenile Justice Reform

Agenda works with coalition partners to successfully push for an overhaul of Louisiana’s juvenile justice system.


Children’s Services Collaborative

The Children’s Services Collaborative is established to align services for children and youth in New Orleans.

Covering Kids and Families

Covering Kids and Families, a statewide coalition, gets more kids and families enrolled in Medicaid and LaCHIP.


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