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End Child Care & Preschool Expulsion

An NCECF & TREP Project Collaboration

Some things we know... 

Children are expelled from preschool at more than 3x the rate of K-12 students.

Black children account for 18% of preschool enrollment, but 38% of children expelled from preschool.

42% of preschool educators say that Black boys require the most attention, and watch them more closely for misbehavior.

Preschool educators with access to on-site mental health consultation expel at about 1/2 the rate of those without it.

We will release a policy and practice brief each month over the 2023-24 academic year.



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We now have 15 years of research documenting something that still shocks most people who have never experienced it for themselves: Each day, over 250 children are suspended or expelled from preschool in the United States. Although we primarily hear about exclusionary discipline practices in high schools, children in child care and preschool programs-- including those as young as two years old-- experience suspension and expulsion at alarmingly high rates. Children in child care and preschool settings are expelled at a rate three times higher than are high schoolers. Part of the problem may be lack of resources available to early educators for supporting children exhibiting behavior challenges.

Challenging Behaviors Happen; Exclusion from Care & Learning Environments is Not the Answer



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States hold significant power and autonomy in creating and implementing early childhood learning policies, and within states, governance in early childhood education is often fragmented across multiple agencies and organizations. Variation and fragmentation also shows up in how states address disciplinary decisions in early childhood education. Thankfully, there is a growing body of guidance aimed at minimizing exclusion from child care and early learning. For example, legislators can provide clarity and guidance to reduce the overall use and disparities in who experiences exclusion from early care and learning environments, and state agencies of child development and early education can implement reporting systems that facilitate thoughtful decision-making.

Building Effective Reporting Systems to Prevent and Reduce Early Exclusion



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Young children who are expelled from child care and early learning programs miss out on the tremendous benefits that early education has for young learners. There are broader family well-being effects because the family loses access to the child care they need to work and provide for the household. Ensuring that providers and preschool teachers have regular access to child development and mental health professionals is one evidence-based strategy for improving the management of children’s challenging behaviors, and prevention of exclusionary discipline. This support can be provided through infant and early childhood mental health consultation, an evidence-based intervention that addresses mental health and behavioral concerns through consultative support for care providers, educators, and parents.

Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation: Reduce Exclusion by Addressing Underlying Problems



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There are many factors at play in young children’s dysregulated behaviors. This brief looks upstream at how adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) find expression in child behavior and contribute to exclusionary discipline. Early exposure to adversity can set off a cascade of developmental challenges. Understanding when children’s challenging behaviors may be due to toxic stress and trauma is an important aspect of breaking the intergenerational transmission of the effects of ACEs. Understanding how children respond to adversity can help early childhood professionals recognize sources of trauma, and ensure that children and their families connect with appropriate interventions. ... We need to consider the social determinants of infant and child well-being, which are largely determined by the well-being of their parents and caregivers.

Moving Upstream to Prevention:
The Underlying Roles of ACEs & Trauma in Children's Dysregulated Behavior



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High rates of exclusion from early care and learning environments is the result of policy (in)action and can be reduced when legislators provide expectations and guidance for how early childhood educators respond to young children’s behavior. Policy makers who write the guidelines that govern how early care and learning programs operate are in a unique position to interrupt the epidemic of exclusion for our youngest learners. By understanding evidence-based principles that guide best practices for the social and emotional development of preschoolers, policy makers can effectively write legislation that sets expectations for early educators to use developmentally appropriate responses with young children who exhibit challenging behaviors.

Strengthening Policy & Practice Guidelines for Preventing Exclusionary Discipline



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By age six, 70% of children have experienced a single traumatic event or repeated moderate traumatic events that disrupt their ability to regulate their emotions. This dysregulation often shows up as challenging behaviors. ... Learning to view challenging behavior through the lens of nonverbal communication can help child care and early childhood educators to respond in ways that are developmentally supportive and minimize exclusionary discipline. ... Research informs us that passing laws that restrict suspension and expulsion must be coupled with investing in building the capacity to effectively prevent and respond to challenging behaviors.

Strengthen the Capacity of Early Care and Learning Educators to Eliminate Exclusion



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Many states have taken steps to limit the use of exclusionary discipline for young children. Policymakers have banned or placed sharp limits on the use of expulsion for children in publicly-funded preschool programs. They also encourage the use of non-punitive or restorative approaches to managing young children’s challenging behaviors. These actions are important and meaningful steps on the path to creating more inclusive and nurturing early learning  environments. However,  while implementing broad policies aimed at reducing exclusionary discipline improve outcomes for all students, they fall short of meaningfully changing some of the everyday practices that contribute to the disproportionate use of expulsions by race.

Beyond Suspensions and Expulsions: Reducing Disproportionality in Exclusion Through Everyday Practices

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Actionable Resources
  • Policies & Guidelines
    North Carolina's statewide guidance aimed at reducing early childhood suspension and expulsion. ​ The US Department of Health and Human Services spotlights state-wide progress in policies and supports. This report presents trends and best practices in creating and monitoring policies that regulate disciplinary practices in preschools. ​ This interactive guide from provides step-by-step guidance on how to create a structure that parallels multi-tiered systems of support, in early childcare settings. ​ The Centering Black Families: Equitable Discipline through Improved Data Policies in Child Care report examines how equitable data practices can uncover important, program-level information that tells the story of current realities, and center racial equity in data planning and collection.
  • Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Supports
    Checklists to help teaching teams be systematic in examining the potential contributors to challenging behavior. ​ Learn how to help children with big feelings in the classroom, and try teaching a calming technique for students to use when the big feelings arise. Use these resources from CASEL to understand and act on using social-emotional learning as a level for racial equity in your school and classroom. Download a toolkit for early childhood organizations to promote mindfulness practices among educators and students. Download a toolkit for learning about and implementing culturally responsive classroom setup and behavior management strategies to promote social-emotional wellness across racial, linguistic, and cultural differences.
  • Partnering with Parents and Caregivers
    Share these activities that can help support a child's social-emotional development at home, and check in with parents about which activities they and their child liked best. (Disponible en espanol). ​ Parents and educators can watch these videos from Sesame Workshop about problem solving, calming down, and building resilience with young children. ​ Complete this module for building parent-teacher relationships. This interactive resource can help collaboration with parents of early learners. Learn to build partnerships between parents and early childhood educators using this resource from an early childhood mental health initiative.
  • Early Childhood Mental Health
    Read an overview of the research on the impact of early childhood mental health consultation on promoting positive and racially equitable early learning environments. ​ Learn about the role and competencies of an early childhood mental health consultant to help in the hiring and management of social workers, psychologists, and other professional development supports for early childhood educators. ​ Use these resources about developing a mental health consultation team, including information to share with parents about the process and what it will mean for their child. Explore these resources from Sesame Workshop on how caring adults, including early childhood educators and parents, can help a child cope with traumatic experiences.
  • Communication Resources to Advance this Goal
    SolutionsNotSuspensions is a bill in New York state aimed at reducing the use of suspensions, and increasing the use of restorative practices, for students. Their website provides easy to follow information for individuals to advocate directly with legislators in support of the bill. ​ The Ending PUSHOUT Act is a public awareness campaign, including a House bill, that educates the public about punitive and racially disproportionate school discipline practices. The bill incentivizes schools and states to bad exclusionary discipline practices. ​ This Back-to-school Action Guide from The Sentencing Project provides an agenda of action items that schools can follow to end exclusionary discipline, tying school discipline practices to broader issues of mass incarceration and racial justice. Fix School Discipline has aCommunity Toolkit for educators, students, parents, and community members to take action towards reducing harsh discipline practices and student pushout from schools.

actionable resources

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