Expulsion rates of children prior to kindergarten are at rates up to 34 times higher than the rates of children expelled from kindergarten through 12th grade, combined. In addition, boys are being expelled at a rate of 4.5 times that of girls, and children of color are significantly more likely to be expelled. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, this “disrupts the learning process, pushing a child out the door of one early care and education program, only for him or her to be enrolled somewhere else, continuing a negative cycle of revolving doors that increases inequality and hides the child and family from access to meaningful support.”
A collaborative effort across the state is currently underway to address this problem, with the support of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Whole Child Matters: Early Childhood Mental Health Initiative Grant. Led by Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in partnership with early childhood mental health consultants and providers throughout the state, the Ohio Preschool Expulsion Prevention Partnership (OPEPP) has prevented 93 percent of expulsions of children who were reported to the OPEPP hotline by daycare and in-home child care providers as having behavioral issues and being at-risk.
Any licensed home childcare or center childcare provider or ODE preschool in Ohio with preschool children whose behavior poses challenges and who are at-risk for expulsion can call the Ohio Preschool Expulsion Prevention Partnership at 844-678-ABCs or complete an online request form. A local early childhood mental health consultant is promptly identified to provide one to three consultation sessions to early childhood teachers and administrators with the goal of keeping these young children enrolled. Early childhood mental health consultants offer specific classroom strategies and interventions designed to have immediate impact and make recommendations for teachers to use with students and families, including referrals to external mental health providers if needed.
“Our goal is to engage teachers as early as possible to reduce and eliminate expulsions during such a crucial developmental period in a child’s education,” said Kristopher West, PhD, who directs the Early Childhood Mental Health Program at Nationwide Children’s. “Working alongside administrators, teachers and homecare providers, we can help create a climate that educators and students can thrive in – not only reducing expulsions, but also reducing child sick days and teacher sick days.”
By developing a relationship with teachers, center childcare staff and home childcare providers, consultants help identify stressors for students and teachers, provide trauma-informed training, create awareness of the social-emotional environment within the classroom and equip teachers with the tools to help students build resiliency.
“One rewarding aspect of this project as we have reached out to providers across Ohio has been helping in-home family childcare providers and centers in rural communities that did not previously realize what resources were available to them,” said West. “Simply helping them connect those dots can make a big difference.”
All consultants are trained in The Georgetown Model of Early Childhood Mental Health Consultations. Consultants are from: Nationwide Children's Hospital, Hopewell Health Centers, A Renewed Mind/Unison Behavioral Health, Children’s Resource Center, Starting Point, Alta Behavioral Healthcare, Consolidated Care, Inc., Catalyst Life Services, Catholic Charities Diocese of Cleveland/Geuaga, Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio, Child Focus, Inc., Child Guidance and Family Solutions, Crossroads Lake County, Samaritan Behavioral Health, and Greene County Educational Services Center. Further support is provided by county authorities including, ADAMH of Cuyahoga County, ADAMH of Hancock County, Mental Health and Recovery Board of Erie and Ottawa Counties, Stark County Mental Health and Recovery Board, Huron County Board of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Medina County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board.
“The foundations of sound mental health are built early in life,” said OhioMHAS Director Tracy Plouck. “Early experiences – including children’s relationships with parents, caregivers, relatives, teachers and peers – interact with genes to shape the architecture of the developing brain. Disruptions in this developmental process can impede a child’s capabilities for learning and relating to others, with lifelong implications.”