How to spend the New York City budget surplus? If one group of child advocates had their way, the extra dollars would go to programs to reduce child abuse and neglect, move families from shelters to permanent housing, expand Child Health Insurance coverage, and reduce school overcrowding. Such hopes (or some of them) may prove real if Mayor Giuliani this month adopts proposals put forth by Citizens' Committee for Children (CCC) of New York. Staffed by child advocates and a cadre of parent volunteers, CCC, actively championing the rights of city youngsters since 1944, currently has a budget all their own, titled Kids First New York. After releasing the results in March of their citywide poll, "Picture Imperfect: The State of Children in NYC Through the Eyes of New Yorkers" - which revealed that New Yorkers overwhelmingly believe the City is not doing enough to make life better for children - CCC developed their plan, highlighting essential services in need. Executive director Gail Nayowith believes that the Kids First message has made an impact; she says, "We are particularly hopeful that we will see a real rebuilding and reinvestment in public education." CCC is a unique and powerful shoestring operation with an annual budget of $1.6 million, all of it independently funded. Receiving no government funding, "allows us to be as critical, cooperative or contentious as we need to be to get things accomplished," explains Nayowith. She points out that CCC is doubly effective because of the strong partnership between paid staff and volunteers, all working "to promote a comprehensive, equitable and viable agenda for New York City's children." Their "Kids First New York Network", now comprising more than 11,000 New Yorkers, communicates regularly with elected officials to encourage the enactment of public policies aimed at improving the quality of life for New York City's 1.8 million children and their families, including those who are living in poverty, at risk of neglect or abuse, or who are otherwise vulnerable. Past accomplishments include the release last year of the report, "No More Pencils, No More Books II", chronicling the impact of budgetary cuts on New York City public schools; and "A Window of Opportunity For Children Who Stay Too Long", which examined the unnecessarily long incarceration of youngsters in residential treatment centers and psychiatric hospitals. CCC has lobbied City Hall for an increase in funding for schools, youth development and youth employment programs, preventive services, foster care and child health services; and for increased monies for reading, music and arts programs in the public schools. They were instrumental in getting new legislation for Universal Pre-K for all New York City four-year-olds. They also conduct on-site visits to assess policy and budget impacts; and monitor over 160 agencies which provide a variety of mental health, social service and educational programs. The group urges all New York City parents to become involved in their latest crusade - and time is of the essence. Contact Mayor Giuliani, urging him to include the Kids First plan in his Budget proposal. Parents are also urged to join a Task Force, to make a tax-deductible contribution, and to learn more about the organization. Contact Citizens' Committee for Children, 105 East 22nd Street, New York, NY 10010, (212) 673-1800.