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Preschool Suspension and Expulsion: Root Causes and Solutions

Preschool children are expelled from early-childhood programs at higher rates than children in elementary and secondary school, with black children and  boys bearing the brunt of that particular form of discipline. 

Earlier this month, early-childhood educators and experts gathered in Washington to discuss how children are removed from or "counseled out" of preschool, and clips from the discussion were recently posted on YouTube. The panel was sponsored by the advocacy organizations Zero to Three and the National Black Child Development Institute, in partnership with U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut. 

Crystal Hardy-Flowers, the founder and director of Little Flowers Early Childhood & Development Center in Baltimore, said her staff members told her they were struggling to work with children who have challenging behaviors. Some of them were quitting because the work was so difficult. 

"So I had to think, what is it I can do? Kids aren't just born bad. Why are these kids acting like this?" Hardy-Flowers said. "And then it dawned on me: the environment.These kids are exposed to stuff that some of us in a lifetime have never seen." 

And that stress is often internalized by young children who act out because they haven't yet learned better ways to express themselves, said Claire Lerner, a senior parenting adviser for Zero to Three. "When children feel out of control on the inside, they feel out of control on the outside." 

Hardy-Flowers' center invested in training staff members on childhood trauma. "I'm not saying it's all good, but it is a lot better," she said. "Because now the staff, they understand how to talk to the children."

That kind of special training is recommended by Walter Gilliam, the director of Yale's Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy. Gilliam has done research on this issue dating back to the early 2000s. Part of the solution, he said, is to invest in services that connect children and families with appropriate mental-health counseling, and to offer more support to providers. 

"When we expel children who need the services the most from the program, we undercut the business model of early care and education," Gilliam told the group. "We've now taken out the children who are likely to give us our biggest return on investment out of the service."

Related stories:

 for the latest news on policies, practices, and trends in early childhood education. 

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