Study shows gaps in system for addressing social needs

Research; Social Work

While social needs like food and housing are strongly associated with health, it’s not clear how helpful social service systems are in addressing these needs. New research from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis indicates there is plenty of room for improvement.

Researchers surveyed 1,235 adult callers to 2-1-1 – a telephone information and referral system – and then followed up one month and four months later to determine outcomes. The study, conducted from 2010 – 2012, was the first to report 2-1-1 call outcomes linked to caller characteristics in a large random sample.

Most callers sought help paying utility bills (51%) or rent (13%), or acquiring household goods (14%) or food (6%).  Although 82 percent of the callers reported reaching a social service agency to which 2-1-1 had referred them, only 36 percent received assistance from the referral. The most common reason was lack of funding by the agency; callers were most likely to get help with food (67%) and least likely to get help from referrals for housing (17%).

“The demand for help with social needs appears to greatly exceed the community resources available,” said Dr. Matthew W. Kreuter, Kahn Family Professor and Associate Dean of Public Health at the Brown School. “The good news is, when assistance is received, problem resolution increases dramatically.”

The paper was published online Jan. 22 in the Journal of Social Service Research.