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Connecticut Curbs Preschool Suspensions With Mental Health Support

A Connecticut program that brings mental-health practitioners into preschool classrooms to support teachers has a measurable impact on reducing problem behaviors in young children

The study of Connecticut's Early Childhood Consultation Partnership was led by Walter S. Gilliam, the director of the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale University. Gilliam studied preschool expulsion well before the topic caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Education, which has started requiring schools and districts to report the rates of children suspended and expelled from preschool. His first study on the topic, released in 2005, found that preschoolers were expelled at three times the rate of K-12 students. In 2015, Connecticut lawmakers enacted a ban on out-of-school suspensions and expulsions of students in prekindergarten through 2nd grade. 

The research, published this month in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, examined the program's impact on 176 3- and 4-year-olds in 88 classrooms. After counseling, teachers said that children who went through the program had lower rates of oppositional behaviors, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, compared to a control group of children. The study didn't have any impact on a teacher assessment of expulsion risk measures, but other research has found that preschool teachers are less likely to expel students when they have access to mental health services. 

ECCP was formed in Connecticut in 2002 over concerns about the state's then high levels of preschool suspension and expulsion. The state-funded program sends trained mental health practitioners to public or private early-childhood programs in classrooms on request. The consultants guide teachers to gently redirect behavior rather than scolding children. They also help discover the root cause of behavior issues for children who struggle the most and who prompted the request for assistance. That's meant to help teachers respond more sensitively to difficult students. 

Education Week included ECCP in a 2014 article on efforts to reduce preschool suspensions and expulsions.  And the program was also recently profiled on National Public Radio. The radio segment details an incident where a boy "with orange socks" swings a stick at classmates. His teacher, without yelling at the boy, convinces him to use the stick for a jumping game instead. Next thing you know, all the children are taking turns jumping over the stick. If you've ever watched a 4-year-old on the edge of a temper tantrum involving a stick, you'll know just how incredible this little scene is. 

This program "is offering a solution to a federally recognized need," said Gilliam in an interview with Education Week. "And because of the way ECCP is structured, the degree to which it's so well-defined, it could be picked up and put just about anywhere." 

Staff writer Christina A. Samuels contributed to this report. 


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