Testimony Before the New York City Council Committee on Technology in Government

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Cathleen Clements, Esq., Director Office of Public Policy & Client Advocacy

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April 19, 2005

I would first like to thank the Committee for holding this hearing and for the Council’s ongoing leadership and commitment to advancing technological investment in New York City’s human services communities. I will be brief today, because my message is very simply to put a face on the issue.

Like most New York City residents, I came to here from somewhere else, and as so many others, from a community with a much smaller population. I grew up in southwestern Wisconsin in a Norwegian dairy community of 800, most no more than two generations removed from the Old Country. In such villages around the country and indeed, around the world, the entire community takes part in the education of its children, in caring for its needy, and in the operation of its government. Such participation occurs naturally and willingly, and is the best form of representation in the democratic process.

After years of work as a special ed teacher, a school counselor, and more recently, as a public interest attorney, I find that New York City, despite being filled with millions of people, operates in pretty much the same way. We form the same villages in our neighborhoods and live with the same values we learned at home. The Children’s Aid Society, where I oversee public policy and client advocacy, has lived and worked for over 150 years in the heart of the city’s low-income communities, including Washington Heights, East and Central Harlem, the South Bronx, and Brooklyn. There we deliver services to neighborhood families that range from mental health counseling and medical and dental clinics, to after-school programs, to legal advocacy, to facilitated enrollment in health insurance, to name just a few.

These city villages are populated by transplants like myself, who have migrated from their villages back home: the deep South, Mexico, South and Central America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and yes, even the Midwest. Our centers are staffed by community residents and filled with families who all want a voice in the education of their children, in giving and seeking care for their needy, and in the operation of local government. In fact, some of the liveliest political campaigns are now being run from these communities, where children are being taught by their parents to stand up and let their voices be heard. Because New York City is filled with vibrant and vocal villages all seeking to participate in the larger community, we need access to the government that represents us. The human services agencies give voice to the concerns and the hopes of these villages. And I believe strongly that the Integrated Human Services Project is an indispensable tool for providing agencies like Children’s Aid an opportunity to view the operation of government in an honest, transparent, and efficient way, to inform it with the concerns and knowledge gained on the ground in these communities, and to transmit information back to the families with whom we work.

We have waited many years for local government to catch up with the world’s burgeoning technology. Now is the time, with so many constituencies focused on the issue, to finally launch this project. The human services agencies will thank you for making their operation simpler, less costly, and better informed; and the villagers will also thank you for the more expeditious delivery of the services that give New York City families a better life based on their own expressed needs Thank you again for the opportunity to present testimony on behalf of just one of the city’s many community-based human services agencies. For more information about The Children’s Aid Society, call Cathleen Clements at (212) 358-8930.

For further inquiries please contact: The Children’s Aid Society Office of Public Policy and Client Advocacy (212) 358-8930