“Pipeline from kindergarten to prison.
This is how some early childhood professionals in Michigan refer to how preschool and daycare expulsions and suspensions upend the lives of children, not to mention the lives of their parents.
“It’s a lot more common than most people realize. It’s extremely common for young three and four-year-olds to be kicked out and suspended from child care,” says Maddie Elliott, Policy and programs for Michigan kids, a Lansing-based advocacy organization. “Children in day care are 13 times more likely to be expelled than children from K-12 schools.”
The mental health trauma of experiencing expulsion at such a young age can impact children throughout school and beyond. These children quickly conjure up images of themselves as “bad,” as failures in the school setting, and as “less than” their peers.
“When a child is expelled at such a young age, it gives them a really bad first encounter with education in general,” Elliott says. “It can also lead to children being stigmatized or seeing themselves as bad students. It can really set them up and fail to have a positive relationship with teachers in the future.”
More disturbingly, preschools and daycare centers are the most likely to expel little black boys. A study by the United States Department of Education shows that black children are 3.6 times more likely to be deported in kindergarten than their white peers. And bad behavior may not be the cause. Teachers, caregivers, and peers often have unconscious biases that lead to more suspensions and expulsions for boys of color.
“We live in a society that has white supremacist and anti-black views. These have been ingrained in all of us from a very early age. None of us are immune. We know from research that even the very young children make different attributions between race and perceived threats of aggression,” says Katherine Rosenblum, co-director of the University of Michigan Zero to Thrive program. “We also know that adults are more likely to perceive black children as less innocent and more guilty. And they tend to perceive black children as older than them.”
Zero to Thrive’s Infant and Early Years Clinic provides state-of-the-art assessment, support and therapeutic intervention services to infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their families, recognizing that the period from pregnancy to infancy is a particularly sensitive period for mitigating the multigenerational effects of inequality, trauma and adversity and promoting mental health. Washtenaw County children who have been kicked out of day care centers and preschools have found help in the program.
“Sometimes these kids are young black boys who are tall. Their parents will say, ‘You know, they have really unrealistic expectations for my kid just because he’s taller, taller than average,'” Rosenblum says. “This implicit bias perceives black boys as more of a threat, more aggressive, especially if they look older than they are, which contributes to the behavior being perceived differently. If we view the behavior as aggressive, we are less likely to think about what that child needs.”
When daycare centers or preschools expel children, entire families suffer the consequences. If parents have no one to watch young children, they cannot go to work. And if they don’t work, they may be unable to pay their bills.
“Being kicked out of these circles can change the whole trajectory of this family,” Elliott says. “They might not be able to find another child care option. It really impacts a lot of things.”
The superficial causes of expulsions in daycare and kindergarten are physical behaviors such as hitting, kicking, biting, yelling or throwing tantrums. However, Elliott argues that in children this young, these behaviors are how children communicate their unmet needs. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on young families. Many young Michiganders have lost more than one grandparent, aunt, uncle, or even parent or sibling to COVID. And for many Michigan families, substance use disorders have become the hidden pandemic within the pandemic. When young families become dysfunctional, children suffer the consequences.
“If we’re not able to help these kids when they’re very young, it could lead to more extreme behavior and trouble in the future, and even getting in trouble with the law,” Elliott says. “It’s really important to get to these kids when they’re young and get them the resources they need early on.”
Michigan programs help children manage their behavior
Zero to Thrive isn’t alone on a mission to help Michigan’s little ones succeed socially and academically. With the support of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Michigan Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (IECMHC) pairs mental health professionals with early care and education providers and families to develop the social, emotional and behavioral health of children from birth to age 5. This evidence-based model aims to improve children’s mental health and reduce suspensions and expulsions from daycare and preschool. IECMHC currently works in 18 Michigan counties: Alger, Delta, Dickinson, Genesee, Huron, Kalamazoo, Lapeer, Macomb, Marquette, Menominee, Muskegon, Oakland, Saginaw, Sanilac, Schoolcraft, St. Clair, Tuscola and Wayne.
“They do a wonderful job helping child care workers deal with challenging behaviors in the classroom,” says Elliott. “These mental health consultants are able to not only impact the child who may be at risk of expulsion. They can also help all children by teaching educators how to better foster social-emotional learning.”
IECMHC Reports that the children he serves not only had fewer instances of challenging behavior, but that their parents missed fewer days of work and experienced less stress. Evaluations of programs like the IECMHC found that daycare and preschool providers more effectively managed the behavior of all children and experienced reduced stress and turnover.
In Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Monroe, Washtenaw, St. Clair and Livingston counties, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan-finance Positive emotional development and learning skills (PEDALS) specifically aims to reduce childcare and preschool evictions. Based on a model developed in New York as of 2012, PEDALS is in more than 160 early childhood classrooms in southeast Michigan, with plans to add 100 new classrooms per year over the next three years.
“We all want to reduce the difficult behaviors that are the precursor to preschool expulsions,” said PEDALS director Kamilah Henderson. “During each school year, when we look at where the kids are at the start of the school year and where they are at the end of the school year, we see a reduction in challenging behaviors in every classroom.”
PEDALS coaches advise early childhood teachers on how to develop social-emotional learning skills in their students so they can teach children to listen, pay attention, manage their own behaviors and self-directedly. get along with others.
“These are things we need throughout life, those executive functioning skills and those inhibitory controls that make the preschool classroom a place of calm and learning,” Henderson says. “Children can have a joyful time and the teacher can have a joyful time. When we see high levels of challenging behaviors, there is something that needs to happen at the classroom level. Or sometimes there are specific children who need more intervention and support. We are moving quickly to intervene, support the teacher and develop those SEL skills so that there is no expulsion.”
The ultimate goal of PEDALS, Zero to Thrive, and IECMHC is to prepare children to be happy, healthy learners who succeed academically, build healthy relationships with their peers, and eventually take their place in their communities as than mentally healthy adults.
“The kids we see getting kicked out of kindergarten tend to be the kids who have to repeat grades in primary school, drop out of secondary school and have other negative outcomes that are of great concern to our communities,” Henderson said. . “We want every child to be aware of themselves, know how to notice and name an emotion, manage their body and behavior – and be aware of their friends around them. We want them to go to kindergarten with these skills, so they are ready to learn and have fun with friends.”
Estelle Slootmaker is a writer specializing in journalism, book publishing, communications, poetry and children’s books. You can contact her at Estelle.Slootmaker@gmail.com or www.constellations.biz.
Photos of Katherine Rosenblum by Doug Coombe. All other photos courtesy of the subjects.