Recognition of the importance of the social determinants of child health has prompted increased interest in clinical pathways that identify and refer for social needs.
The aim of this systematic review was to determine the effectiveness of interventions that identify and refer for social needs for families with children aged 0 to 18 years attending outpatient community and ambulatory healthcare services.
We searched the following databases: Medline, Embase, PsychINFO, CINAHL, Emcare, EBMR.
Studies were included if children and their families underwent a process of identification and referral for social needs in outpatient community and ambulatory healthcare services.
Initial searches identified 5490 titles, from which 18 studies (73 707 families and children) were finally retained.
Intervention pathways were grouped into 3 categories based on whether identification and referral for social needs was conducted with only targeted community resources, a navigator, or with clinician training. The majority of studies reported positive outcomes; with an increase in social needs identification, an increase in referrals following identification, or a reduction in social needs. Child health outcome results were inconsistent.
The search terms used may have provided bias toward countries in which these terms are in use. The heterogeneity of outcome measures between included studies meant a meta-analysis was not possible.
Despite evidence that clinical pathways for children and families help reduce social needs, evidence for improvements in child health is insufficient. Further studies from diverse settings are needed to inform clinical practice to optimize child health outcomes.