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15th November 2023

Improving access to social services for vulnerable families

Prof Mark Boyd & Emily Brigham

Research suggests that up to 50% of a person’s health and wellbeing is influenced by social determinants like housing, food, safety and transport – the things many of us take for granted.

Getting a good start in life is paramount, but can be difficult in some regions where there are significantly higher rates of socioeconomic disadvantage.

Improving health outcomes for vulnerable families is the premise of a new study set to take place within the Northern Adelaide Local Health Network (NALHN), through funding awarded by The Hospital Research Foundation Group 2023 NALHN Project Grant Round.

The project will involve the recruitment of dedicated ‘health navigators’ who will work with vulnerable children and their families when they are admitted to hospital, to access vital social support services and follow-up care.

“An admission to hospital presents an important opportunity to assess a child’s health and identify any unmet social needs,” said Professor Mark Boyd, Chair of Medicine at NALHN and lead investigator on the project (pictured left, with Children’s Ward nurse unit manager Emily Brigham).

“The integration of social care into medical care is already commonplace in the UK and USA and has reported success in connecting families with community and social services.”

As part of the study, clinicians will screen parents and caregivers of children for unmet social needs
(including housing, finances, safety, transport, food, support, and access to the internet) using a simple online screening tool.

If they screen positive, parents and caregivers will be offered the assistance of a skilled ‘health navigator’ who will work in partnership with them to identify community support services and solutions, with ongoing follow-up for five months.

“Research projects like this are vital to improving our services and identifying new approaches, so we can give our most vulnerable consumers access to the help they need and deserve,” Prof Boyd said.

The 12-month study will commence in early 2024. Data collected from participants, clinicians, and community service providers will inform a possible expanded trial in the future.