The NYS Touchstones vision is that all children, youth and families will be healthy and have the knowledge, skills and resources to succeed in a dynamic society. The Touchstones framework is organized by six major life areas:
- Economic Security;
- Physical and Emotional Health;
- Family; and
Each life area has a set of goals and objectives-representing expectations about the future, and a set of indicators-reflecting the status of children and families. The goals and objectives are integrally related to each other and call for comprehensive strategies to address any single aspect of children and family well-being.
Touchstones is a tool to help guide State and local efforts. The common set of goals and objectives cuts across all service systems and allows individuals and organization's with diverse missions to come together to improve conditions for children and families.
The commissioners and directors of New York State's health, education and human services agencies recognized that to improve outcomes in each of the areas for which they had responsibility, it was necessary to shift to a new paradigm characterized by prevention, early intervention and family/youth involvement. Further, to increase the effectiveness of the various systems, the agencies embarked on an effort to develop a common set of measurable goals and objectives that lead to improved outcomes for children and families. From these actions, the Council and its 12 member agencies developed New York State Touchstones.
Soon after, the Council became part of the national KIDS COUNT network, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Recognizing the important link between Touchstones and KIDS COUNT, the Council saw the NYS Touchstones/KIDS COUNT data books as the vehicle for highlighting the status of New York’s children and families. The first data dissemination effort was the NYS Touchstones/KIDS COUNT 1998 Data Book.
However, Council staff recognized the limitations of printed documents and began developing a website to make the data directly available to their stakeholders in a format that could be used for further analysis. Several events helped move the initiative forward including a Health and Human Services grant in 1998 for promoting the use of indicators in human services and, in 2002, support from the New York State e-Commerce/e-Government initiative promoting the Internet as a vehicle for doing the state’s business.
During the early development phase, the Council, in conjunction with the Center for Technology in Government and Cornell University's College of Human Ecology, conducted community assessments around the State to get input from government, non-government, and not for profit agencies as well as from advocacy groups on what these potential users wished to see included in the website. An advisory group representing many stakeholders at all levels supported the development of the website on an ongoing basis.
With a grant from the State’s Office for Technology, the Council was able to contract with a vendor to do the technical development of an interactive, web-based tool that would allow data users to gather, plot and monitor New York State Touchstones/Kids Count data. The immediate goals of the Council were to have a website that was usable by the public, useful for managers in many organizations, and designed so well that it could be easily managed by Council staff. Having already made many of the content and data decisions as part of producing the data book proved to be a tremendous asset since the Council members and stakeholders statewide had already had a taste of the data and were now ready for more data in a more useable format.