ArcNews Online

Spring 2005
Search ArcNews

E-mail to a Friend
"First 5" Established Through California Children and Families First Act of 1998

San Bernardino County, California, Agency Analyzes Tax Impact With GIS

  click to enlarge
In some areas of San Bernardino County, California, more than 30 percent of mothers do not receive prenatal care during the first trimester of pregnancy, a key indicator in the health of an infant. This map is one of more than 260 created by GIS technicians at the Redlands Institute at the University of Redlands, California, in conjunction with the First 5 San Bernardino commission.

For the past five years, First 5 San Bernardino has been charged with doling out money from the state's tobacco tax to fund projects that help children under the age of five in Southern California's vast San Bernardino County. First 5 was established through the California Children and Families First Act of 1998 to promote child health and safety, school readiness, and nurturing family lifestyles. The program focuses on making a difference during the earliest years of a child's life because experiences during these years have a profound effect on the way a child grows and develops.

Under the direction of the Children and Families Commission for San Bernardino County, the organization in 2005 alone will administer approximately $25 million for services to be provided through social service organizations and other groups. These organizations provide a variety of services to families across the county through programs that improve family access to community services, promote school readiness, and teach parenting skills. The funding is made possible through California's Proposition 10 of 1998, which created First 5 commissions in every county and added a 50-cent tax to tobacco products.

However, members of the San Bernardino organization recently began to wonder: "Was the program focusing on the areas in the county where children have the greatest needs?"

The commission turned to the Redlands Institute, an applied research unit within the Center for Environmental Studies at the University of Redlands in Redlands, California, which also offers one of the nation's only one-year intensive graduate programs in GIS. Commission members were impressed by a joint project of the Redlands Institute and the Redlands Police Department in which researchers mapped crime data to better analyze the social roots of crime.

First 5 San Bernardino asked the Redlands Institute to use GIS to help identify and prioritize community needs by compiling and mapping indicators of children's health and welfare, such as poverty, parental education levels, and infant mortality rates. The objective was to identify pockets of need throughout San Bernardino County in order to prioritize communities that would receive funding for social services.

"The question became, 'What real impact are we having on children throughout the county?'" says Don Larkin, executive director of the commission. "We want to make sure that we identify where the true needs are for the children and base our services on fulfilling those needs."

The commission convened a task force of experts in more than 20 subject areas, from public health to education. The experts compiled a list of possible indicators that might help them better identify and ultimately meet the needs of the county's children.

To meet the needs of the commission, the Redlands Institute used ArcGIS Desktop (ArcInfo) to inventory and assess the possible indicator data sets, design and compile the data sets, and map the indicators.

Redlands Institute research analysts Melissa Brenneman and Frank Davenport began by using ArcInfo and Microsoft Access to create a digital catalog to inventory and document potential indicator data sets. The catalog was used to identify redundant data sources, assess the applicability of data sets to indicators (based on subject, currency, population addressed, source, quality), and assess compatibility for use in a GIS (based on data structure and reporting unit [e.g., county, ZIP Code, census tract, street address]). Of the 51 indicator data sets identified, 24 were suitable for the commission's needs. Some examples of the final indicator data sets include prenatal care, birth weight, mothers who breastfeed, infant survival rate, preschool participation, poverty, child abuse, mother's educational attainment, and teen birth rates. The data sets came from a variety of sources, including the California Departments of Education, Health, and Social Services; Census 2000; San Bernardino County Human Services System; and San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools.

Next, Brenneman designed a database to house the 24 indicator data sets, as well as basemap data sets. The database consisted of a set of core administrative boundaries (ZIP Code, county, and First 5 planning), basemap data (e.g., transportation, place names), and the child health and welfare indicator data sets.

Then technicians compiled the administrative, basemap, and indicator data sets. Since the indicator data sets were provided in a number of different formats from a number of different agencies, each had to be compiled to a standard format that could be linked with the ZIP Code boundaries. The technicians used ArcInfo and Microsoft Excel to compile each of the indicator data sets into a series of dBASE tables and to create metadata.

GIS technicians mapped the indicators by establishing attribute relationships between the indicator data sets and ZIP Code boundaries. ArcGIS Desktop template files (.mxt) were used to automate map production and ensure that all maps had the same look and feel. The maps were then presented to the expert task force and community groups for validation and revision.

This resulted in more than 260 unique maps that show where children in San Bernardino County appear to be most at risk of falling behind or developing lifelong delays. The expert task force and members of the community got a glance, in some cases for the first time, of the geographic distribution of these indicators within the county. Many of the maps confirmed what the experts and community members had suspected, while others shed light on pockets of need that were not apparent.

"The maps are the first step in an ongoing project," says Brenneman. "The next step will be to combine the maps to do some deeper analysis."

For more information, contact Paul Burgess, Redlands Institute (tel.: 909-335-5268, e-mail:, or Melissa Brenneman, TopoWorks (tel.: 909-794-0310, e-mail:

Contact Us | Privacy | Legal | Site Map