Navigating the Social Landscape in Schools: The Power of SDOH Screening

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In a world where education is not just about academics but the holistic development of children, understanding the various factors that influence a student’s life is crucial. The article “School-Based Screening of Social Determinants of Health: A Scoping Review” here provides an insightful look into how screening for Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) can reshape the future of school mental health services. This blog aims to distill the implications of this scoping review for school psychologists and professionals concerned with school mental health, ensuring the information is accessible and engaging for those with a high school level of education and beyond.

Understanding Social Determinants of Health (SDOH)

SDOH refers to the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age, affecting a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. It encompasses economic stability, education, social and community context, and neighborhood environment. By understanding these, professionals can better identify and address issues affecting students’ mental health and academic performance.

The Need for SDOH Screening in Schools

Schools are the melting pot of future generations, making them an ideal setting for SDOH screening. Traditionally, school-based screenings have focused on academic, social, emotional, behavioral, or physical development within the child. However, this approach may overlook the broader context of a child’s life, missing critical components influencing their overall development. By integrating SDOH screening, schools can identify and address external factors impacting students’ well-being and learning.

Findings from the Scoping Review

The review highlights the emerging trend of implementing SDOH screening in schools. It identified six articles describing the development or use of SDOH measures across different educational settings, ranging from elementary to university levels. These measures identify social risks like food insecurity, housing instability, and lack of community support. Importantly, the studies suggest that implementing SDOH screenings can lead to increased referrals to services and the implementation of school-based supports to reduce social risk.

Implications for School Psychologists and Related Professionals

Understanding and implementing SDOH screening can be a game-changer for professionals working in school settings. Here are some implications:

  1. Expanding Screening Beyond the Individual: Moving from focusing on individual behavioral and emotional factors to including the broader social context can provide a more holistic understanding of students’ challenges and strengths.
  2. Connecting to Resources: By identifying students’ social risks, schools can connect them and their families to necessary resources, potentially mitigating long-term negative impacts.
  3. Data-Informed Decisions: SDOH data can inform the allocation of resources and supports within the school, ensuring that they are directed where most needed.
  4. Empathy and Understanding: Understanding the context of students’ lives can foster empathy among educators, leading to more supportive and effective teaching strategies.

Challenges and Considerations

While the potential benefits are clear, implementing SDOH screening comes with challenges. It requires careful consideration of privacy, avoiding stigmatization, ensuring cultural sensitivity, and most importantly, guaranteeing that identified needs can be met with appropriate resources. Schools must also navigate the logistics of integrating such screenings into their existing frameworks and systems.


This study shows the incorporation of broader social factors into school mental health services. As we understand more about how these social determinants impact students, the role of school psychologists and related professionals becomes increasingly vital. They are at the forefront of this shift, advocating for and implementing strategies recognizing the full spectrum of influences on student health and well-being.

In embracing SDOH screening, schools take a significant step towards nurturing academically proficient and holistically healthy students. It’s a movement from reactive to proactive, individual to community, and education to empowerment.

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