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For far too long, New York State waged a war of words rather than a war of action when it came to ameliorating the conditions of chronic poverty, family decay, delinquency, and child abuse and neglect.

The problems have been well documented.

School dropouts cost this nation $260 billion over a lifetime in lost earnings and lost tax revenues. Teenage pregnancy costs $19 billion annually in health care and income maintenance. Substance abuse costs more than $238 billion a year.

Costs to victims of child abuse and domestic violence, along with crimes such as murder, rape and robbery, cost upwards of $450 billion annually with related costs to the criminal justice system of more than $40 billion a year.

New York State receives more than 140,000 reports annually to its child-abuse hotline and currently has 50,000 children in foster care.

The relationship among poverty, family disorganization, educational failure and crime is well documented. Unfortunately, New York's previous efforts at addressing these problems have been shortsighted and poorly conceived.

Now Gov. Pataki has taken a bold and long overdue step toward reversing more than a generation of failed promises to deliver improved human services to the truly needy in New York State.

The governor has seized a historic opportunity to create a seamless service-delivery system that will fundamentally change the way government relates to its most needy and vulnerable populations.

It will help move those who are able from welfare to work. It recognizes that New York State must be smart in developing healthy communities while being tough with those young people who would intimidate and threaten the safety of others.

The governor's proposal to create a new cabinet-level Department of Children and Family Services is a perfect example of viewing human-service delivery as a continuum of care. It combines all the functions currently under the state Division for Youth with the family and children's programs currently within the state Department of Social Services.

Where New York has, in the past, been burdened with duplicative and fragmented service systems, this reorganization will go a long way toward creating a system that is responsive to local needs and appropriately coordinated. The key is to reinvent the system and make it work. For youth development to be truly successful, it must be tied to community development.

A youth-development agenda must be a central part of this effort because it is the key to our economic and social future. Gov. Pataki understands that an investment in positive services for young people is a savings to the taxpayer in the long run, but only if the system is set up to work effectively and efficiently.

He imbued the new Department of Children and Family Services with a budget of $2.6 billion, representing more than $148 million in added funding over the previous year.

Specifically, the budget for this new agency will add $90 million for funding local social-service districts; $2.5 million for delinquency-prevention programs; and $29 million for new adoption subsidies to aid the adoption of 6,800 children in foster care.

Also new is $54 million for day care, to create a total of $383 million for 23,000 day-care slots including 14,000 from the governor's welfare-reform proposal, NY Works.

We need a system that is human-development based, family-centered, locally controlled and results-oriented. The governor's proposal to create this new department should be welcome news to anyone concerned about improving the lives of all children, teen-agers and families in New York State.

Regardless of how well it might be constituted, no single state agency can accomplish this great task alone. We must focus not just on decreasing the problems facing youth, but on increasing their resources and assets.

That can only be accomplished by government working in partnership with the business and religious communities, educational institutions, local service providers and many others in both private and public sectors. We must mobilize our citizenry to solve problems at the local level through their families, schools and neighborhoods.

I am honored to be Gov. Pataki's choice to lead this new agency. I firmly believe that it will provide for all New Yorkers a long overdue opportunity to make real progress toward our common goals of improving the lives of our most vulnerable citizens and providing opportunity and hope to all of the state's young people.

JOHN A. JOHNSON, director of the state Division for Youth, has been named by Gov. Pataki to head the proposed Department of Children and Family Services.

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