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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UNC: Can a Screening for Social Determinants of Health Effectively Inform Children’s Health Care?

A study by students and faculty at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health explored whether screening tools that examine social determinants of health in children can accurately identify early indicators of risk. Based on the researchers’ comprehensive review of existing literature, it remains unclear whether such screenings — which aim to consider risk factors outside traditional medical information — inform better care for children.

Drs. Rebeccah Sokol and Anna Austin, who both received doctoral degrees from the Gillings School in 2019, are lead authors of “Screening Children for Social Determinants of Health: A Systematic Review,” which was published in the October 2019 issue of Pediatrics. The publication is a project of UNC’s Child Maltreatment Research and Practice Network, which was co-founded in 2017 by Drs. Sokol, Austin and Dr. Meghan Shanahan, assistant professor of maternal and child health at the Gillings School and faculty adviser for the group.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines social determinants of health as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life.”

“There is still a lot of debate as to whether children should be screened for social determinants of health, particularly adverse childhood experiences,” says Dr. Austin. “Much of this debate centers around concern as to whether screening will actually result in improved care and appropriate linkage to community resources to meet family needs and priorities. The hope is that, if conducted, a screening for social determinants of health will be one component of a larger system of comprehensive, integrated care.”

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