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Agenda for Children transitions to a new CEO ;Organization serves the River Parishes

 

BATON ROUGE — Agenda for Children, Louisiana’s oldest child advocacy organization, has announced that a new chief executive officer will begin in August 2021 upon the retirement of current CEO, Dr. Anthony “Tony” Recasner. Jennifer “Jen” Roberts, Agenda’s current president, will serve as the organization’s new CEO.

A graduate of Bryn Mawr College (B.A.) and Harvard University (M.Ed), Roberts has spent more than 20 years advocating for children and youth, previously serving in leadership roles in philanthropy, higher education, secondary education schools and youth development organizations.

“I am delighted to serve in this capacity for a community institution that so many hold dear. Agenda’s legacy of work on behalf of millions of Louisiana’s children is a profound responsibility and I am grateful to the Board of Directors for entrusting me with part of its future at such a pivotal time in our history. We still have so much work to do to ensure that all Louisiana children can thrive,” she said.

Agenda for Children was founded by community advocates in 1984 to create an independent voice for Louisiana’s children and work on a diverse set of children’s issues from birth through 18 years of age. The organization has been SE Louisiana’s Child Care Resource (CCR&R) for over 25 years, serving 12 parishes and connecting parents to child care that meets their specific needs.

Agenda for Children offers several services in the River Parishes. The Child Care Resource and Referral department supports the 40 early learning centers in the region, providing group workshops, onsite and virtual coaching, mini-grants and monthly directors’ network needing. The organization assists families with finding childcare that meets their specific needs.

Agenda’s “KIDS COUNT!” project provides local-level data on children in every parish in Louisiana that policymakers and non-profits can use to identify community needs, track progress and identify areas for improvement.

More than 7 in 10 children under age 6 in the River Parishes have all available parents in the workforce, according to a 2014-2018 American Community Survey. While 68% of children under 6 had all available parents in the workforce, this was true for 71% of children under 6 in St. Charles Parish, 81% in St. James and 70% in St. John the Baptist Parish. (“All available parents in the workforce” means that if a child is in a two-parent household, both parents are in the workforce, or if a child is in a household headed by a single parent, that parent is in the workforce.)

Despite widespread labor force participation among parents with young children, the combined capacity of all of the licensed centers in the River Parishes (2,640) is dwarfed by the number of children ages 0 to 4 in the River Parishes (7,267). Put another way, there are only enough seats in centers to serve 36% of children ages 0-4.

Pre-pandemic child poverty rates (2019) in the River Parishes were at or below the statewide average (26%), according to the Census’ Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program. The child poverty rate was lowest in St. Charles Parish (16%), followed by St. James (24%) and St. John the Baptist Parish (26%). However, it should be noted that Louisiana’s child poverty rate was the second-highest in the country, and the national average in 2019 was 17%.

Overall, early/adequate prenatal care rates in the region were comparable or better than the statewide average. Louisiana’s overall rate was 75% in 2019, compared to 74.5% in St. John, 79.0% in St. Charles and 79.3% in St. James. Put another way, about 1 in 5 children in St. Charles and St. James Parishes are born to parents who did not receive early and adequate prenatal care, and the same was true for 1 in 4 babies statewide and in St. John.

Agenda for Children works with officials at all levels of government to advocate for policies and programs that support Louisiana’s children, their families, and early child care providers in all parishes.

Recent legislative accomplishments include:

  • Supported amending SB142 to dedicate 25% of sports betting revenue up to $20 million annually to Louisiana Early Childhood Education Fund.
  • Helped draft and pass HB374 which enhances statutory protections for tenants applying for housing in Louisiana.
  • Supported SB215 which updates Louisiana’s existing laws for pregnant workers to include additional reasonable accommodations for pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding individuals and modestly expands the pool of the employers who are required to follow the regulations.
  • Authored and passed HR118 which creates a task force that will generate a comprehensive plan for a statewide paid leave policy in Louisiana. Jen Roberts will serve as one of 15 representatives across the state on this brand-new commission.

 

While serving as Agenda’s President, Roberts managed the organization’s day-to-day operations. During her tenure, the organization has expanded programming to include grantmaking for early education organizations, supporting academic research, fostering national partnerships, and directly advocating for children, families and child care providers. She has also guided the organization through the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to stabilize the childcare sector and developing new ways to connect families to important services during this challenging time.

Ana Gershanik, Agenda’s chair of the Board of Directors, said, “Jen’s leadership and professionalism during her tenure at Agenda for Children and especially during the pandemic demonstrated that she is the right leader at the right time. I look forward to working hard with Jen to make a difference in the lives of children in Louisiana.”

For more information about Agenda for Children, please visit www.agendaforchildren.org