Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 2: Program Activities for Healthy Development

2.2 Supervision and Discipline

2.2.0 Preventing Expulsions, Suspensions, and Other Limitations in Services

Child care programs should not expel, suspend, or otherwise limit the amount of services (including denying outdoor time, withholding food, or using food as a reward/punishment) provided to a child or family on the basis of challenging behaviors or a health/safety condition or situation unless the condition or situation meets one of the two exceptions listed in this standard.

Expulsion refers to terminating the enrollment of a child or family in the regular group setting because of a challenging behavior or a health condition. Suspension and other limitations in services include all other reductions in the amount of time a child may be in attendance of the regular group setting, either by requiring the child to cease attendance for a particular period of time or reducing the number of days or amount of time that a child may attend. Requiring a child to attend the program in a special place away from the other children in the regular group setting is included in this definition.

Child care programs should have a comprehensive discipline policy that includes an explicit description of alternatives to expulsion for children exhibiting extreme levels of challenging behaviors, and should include the program’s protocol for preventing challenging behaviors. These policies should be in writing and clearly articulated and communicated to parents/guardians, staff and others. These policies should also explicitly state how the program plans to use any available internal mental health and other support staff during behavioral crises to eliminate to the degree possible any need for external supports (e.g., local police departments) during crises.

Staff should have access to in-service training on both a proactive and as-needed basis on how to reduce the likelihood of problem behaviors escalating to the level of risk for expulsion and how to more effectively manage behaviors throughout the entire class/group. Staff should also have access to in-service training, resources, and child care health consultation to manage children’s health conditions in collaboration with parents/guardians and the child’s primary care provider. Programs should attempt to obtain access to behavioral or mental health consultation to help establish and maintain environments that will support children’s mental well-being and social-emotional health, and have access to such a consultant when more targeted child-specific interventions are needed. Mental health consultation may be obtained from a variety of sources, as described in Standard

When children exhibit or engage in challenging behaviors that cannot be resolved easily, as above, staff should:

  1. Assess the health of the child and the adequacy of the curriculum in meeting the developmental and educational needs of the child;
  2. Immediately engage the parents/guardians/family in a spirit of collaboration regarding how the child’s behaviors may be best handled, including appropriate solutions that have worked at home or in other settings;
  3. Access an early childhood mental health consultant to assist in developing an effective plan to address the child’s challenging behaviors and to assist the child in developing age-appropriate, pro-social skills;
  4. Facilitate, with the family’s assistance, a referral for an evaluation for either Part C (early intervention) or Part B (preschool special education), as well as any other appropriate community-based services (e.g., child mental health clinic);
  5. Facilitate with the family communication with the child’s primary care provider (e.g., pediatrician, family medicine provider, etc.), so that the primary care provider can assess for any related health concerns and help facilitate appropriate referrals.

The only possible reasons for considering expelling, suspending or otherwise limiting services to a child on the basis of challenging behaviors are:

  1. Continued placement in the class and/or program clearly jeopardizes the physical safety of the child and/or his/her classmates as assessed by a qualified early childhood mental health consultant AND all possible interventions and supports recommended by a qualified early childhood mental health consultant aimed at providing a physically safe environment have been exhausted; or
  2. The family is unwilling to participate in mental health consultation that has been provided through the child care program or independently obtain and participate in child mental health assistance available in the community; or
  3. Continued placement in this class and/or program clearly fails to meet the mental health and/or social-emotional needs of the child as agreed by both the staff and the family AND a different program that is better able to meet these needs has been identified and can immediately provide services to the child.

In either of the above three cases, a qualified early childhood mental health consultant, qualified special education staff, and/or qualified community-based mental health care provider should be consulted, referrals for special education services and other community-based services should be facilitated, and a detailed transition plan from this program to a more appropriate setting should be developed with the family and followed. This transition could include a different private or public-funded child care or early education program in the community that is better equipped to address the behavioral concerns (e.g., therapeutic preschool programs, Head Start or Early Head Start, prekindergarten programs in the public schools that have access to additional support staff, etc.), or public-funded special education services for infants and toddlers (i.e., Part C early intervention) or preschoolers (i.e., Part B preschool special education).

To the degree that safety can be maintained, the child should be transitioned directly to the receiving program. The program should assist parents/guardians in securing the more appropriate placement, perhaps using the services of a local child care resource and referral agency. With parent/guardian permission, the child’s primary care provider should be consulted and a referral for a comprehensive assessment by qualified mental health provider and the appropriate special education system should be initiated. If abuse or neglect is suspected, then appropriate child protection services should be informed. Finally, no child should ever be expelled or suspended from care without first conducting an assessment of the safety of alternative arrangements (e.g., Who will care for the child? Will the child be adequately and safely supervised at all times?) (1).

The rate of expulsion in child care programs has been estimated to be as high as one in every thirty-six children enrolled, with 39% of all child care classes per year expelling at least one child. In state-funded prekindergarten programs, the rate has been estimated as one in every 149 children enrolled, with 10% of prekindergarten classes per year expelling at least one child. These expulsions prevent children from receiving potentially beneficial mental health services and deny the child the benefit of continuity of quality early education and child care services. Mental health consultation has been shown in rigorous research to help reduce the likelihood of behaviors leading to expulsion decisions. Also, research suggests that expulsion decisions may be related to teacher job stress and depression, large group sizes, and high child:staff ratios (1-6).

Mental health services should be available to staff to help address challenging behaviors in the program, to help improve the mental health climate of indoor and outdoor learning/play environments and child care systems, to better provide mental health services to families, and to address job stress and mental health needs of staff.

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Child Care Health Consultants Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultants Specialized Consultation for Facilities Serving Children with Disabilities Discipline Measures Handling Physical Aggression, Biting, and Hitting Prohibited Caregiver/Teacher Behaviors Using Physical Restraint Recognizing and Reporting Suspected Child Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation Immunity for Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect Preventing and Identifying Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma Care for Children Who Have Experienced Abuse/Neglect Facility Layout to Reduce Risk of Child Abuse and Neglect Prohibited Uses of Food Written Discipline Policies
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on School Health. 2008. Policy statement: Out-of-school suspension and expulsion. Pediatrics 122:450.
  2. Gilliam, W. S. 2005. Prekindergarteners left behind: Expulsion rates in state prekindergarten programs. Foundation for Child Development, Policy Brief Series no. 3. Prek Study_expulsion brief_tcm350-34775.pdf.
  3. Gilliam, W. S., G. Shahar. 2006. Preschool and child care expulsion and suspension: Rates and predictors in one state. Infants Young Children 19:228-45.
  4. Gilliam, W. S. 2008. Implementing policies to reduce the likelihood of preschool expulsion. Foundation for Child Development, Policy Brief Series no. 7.
  5. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. 2008. Mental health problems in early childhood can impair learning and behavior for life. Working paper #6.
  6. Perry, D. F., M. C. Dunne, L. McFadden, D. Campbell. 2008. Reducing the risk for preschool expulsion: Mental health consultation for young children with challenging behaviors. J Child Family Studies 17:44-54.