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California Hopes to Fight Preschool Expulsions with Mental Health Services

The state of California is taking another step to reduce preschool expulsions by expanding access to mental health consultants.

Preschool-boy-playground-solitude-600x400-Article-GETTY.jpgCalifornia Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a bill into law that provides a funding mechanism for mental health consultation services for child-care providers and preschools. The bill was authored by Assemblywoman Blanco Rubio (D-Baldwin Park).

"This bill is really important because we know that teachers struggle with how to deal with challenging behaviors in their classroom," said Scott Moore, the CEO of Kidango, a nonprofit that provides early learning and behavioral services to children in the Bay Area. "It's one of the number one complaints that I'll get when I visit our classrooms and talk with our teachers." 

Moore says students who engage in disruptive behavior such as hitting often have experienced trauma.

"We have children coming in who are homeless," said Moore. "We have children coming in who have experienced abuse and neglect, and oftentimes these experiences translate into challenging behaviors in the classroom."

Kidango helped to draft the legislation and supported its passage.

 A New Funding Mechanism

Through this new law, the state reimbursement rate per child for low-income children in child-care centers and preschools is increased by 5 percent for each child receiving subsidized tuition in a classroom that utilizes mental health consultation services. So if a classroom has 20 children and 10 of them are subsidized, the program would be reimbured at a rate of 10.5 children.

"They're actually creating a funding mechanism that financially incentivizes programs to want to have a consultant," said Walter Gilliam, a child psychology and psychiatry professor at Yale University.

Gilliam and a team of researchers worked in Connecticut to conduct the first statewide randomized controlled trial on the impact of providing mental health consultation services to early-childhood education providers. He says in just three months challenging behaviors were significantly reduced.

Through this model, a mental health consultant who's trained in early-childhood development and trauma observes classes and helps teachers come up with strategies to assist students engaging in inappropriate behavior. 

"It provides a live person in the classroom who can coach that teacher on more effective ways of working with the children, right in the moment as it's needed with just-in-time consultation, which is the best kind of way to provide support to people who are highly busy and overburdened," said Gilliam.

This new law in the state follows a 2017 California law that made it much more difficult for state-subsidized preschools to expel children. That law called on preschools to exhaust several different means of supporting a child and his or her family before expulsion was allowed.

Preschool expulsion is not rare. Research by Gilliam found that preschoolers are expelled at triple the rate of students in K-12.

He says by passing this law California is taking a big step in helping children and their families.

"When you expel a child from a child-care program, you may also be expelling that parent from work," said Gilliam.

He also said that teachers don't relish expelling students.

"Teachers that I've spoken to before they feel terrible about it," he said. "They didn't get into this job because they wanted to give up on babies, but they have to because we keep putting them in that position by giving them lots of children with lots of needs and then not giving them the support that they need in order to be successful."


Related stories:

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