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Maine Officials Concerned About Preschool Expulsions

More than 10 percent of Maine’s teachers and childcare providers have expelled students as young as 3 from their programs due to challenging behaviors such as hitting, pushing and biting, according to a new survey from the Maine Children’s Growth Council.

Advocates for children in Maine are concerned about what the statistics mean for those kids and their families.

State Sen. Cathy Breen asked for the survey, which was conducted by the National Center for Children in Poverty. Breen says she had heard a few stories before on expulsions of preschoolers and kindergarteners. But the study made her see just how widespread the problem is.

“That’s pretty stark information,” Breen says.

The study found that challenging behaviors, such as hitting and pushing, were found in 92 percent of pre-K classrooms. And they often come from children with family issues, including substance abuse, domestic violence and homelessness.

For kids who do get expelled, more than half can’t find another childcare provider. Or they end up in an unregulated setting that isn’t licensed by the state.

Peter Lindsay, the co-chair of the Maine Children’s Growth Council, says the state needs to figure out how to support providers and families to make sure those behaviors are handled properly, before they escalate.

“How do we support providers, support teachers, support families?” Lindsay says. “And work with families and providers, so that the child doesn’t have to leave? So they can stay in an educational setting and childcare setting that’s appropriate for that child, and working for that child.”

One solution that has shown promise is Connecticut’s system of early childhood mental health consultations. The program sends consultants to any childcare setting in the state. Those consultants give training to providers and connect them with parents to work together through a problem, instead of jumping to punishment.

Breen says she’s interested in a number of ideas, including those consultations. She says she hopes to have a comprehensive policy to combat expulsions ready for deliberation by the next legislative session in December.