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Across coast to coast, an eye on trauma-informed early childhood education

By Dr. Dee Stegelin, ICS Senior Fellow

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity for two packed weeks of presentations in very different places, focused on Preschool Expulsion and Trauma-Informed Education for Preschoolers. I had the privilege of presenting at the conference of the South Carolina Association of Educators of Young Children in Columbia, then flying to Denver to speak at a national conference sponsored by Successful Practices Network/National Dropout Prevention Center. It was a hectic 10 days, but well worth it for the knowledge gleaned from these trips.

Even though these presentations were in two very different states—South Carolina and Colorado—they had more in common than we might have guessed. Both sessions were well-attended and the participants were eager to address these issues. At SCAEYC, most of the attendees were preschool teachers from faith-based and private centers as well as some Head Start teachers. In Colorado, the audience was from all over the US and they were school-based professionals: school psychologists, teachers, curriculum coordinators, 4K program coordinators, early interventionists, principals, and specialists in early childhood mental health.

I have seldom had such a common response to presentations as I did for these two sessions. It is clear that many, many young children have experienced trauma in their lives and are demonstrating behaviors and interactions in early learning settings that are in need of assessment and intervention. I got some very useful ideas from the Colorado conference participants, including practitioners in other states who are treating these issues as health issues. They are able to reduce the size of preschool classes, increase the ratio of teacher to children, and provide comprehensive early assessment of all children. So, we are on the right track by seeing education and health as a necessary marriage of services, but it is clear much more needs to be done to bridge the perceived gap between trauma at home and how schools respond.

At both sessions I distributed the ICS briefs that were published and distributed last December – I even ran out of them in Colorado! It is clear that there is a strong, urgent interest in understanding and addressing these issues. We wanted to share these pieces here as well, for those who are new to this issue and particularly want to understand exclusionary discipline in child care settings:

In Preschool Suspension and Expulsion: Defining the Issues, I summarize the state of the field, including how exclusionary discipline practices impact children, families, and communities, as well as an overview of current policies and initiatives to reduce the use of these practices. This brief concludes with a discussion of what is next for the field in targeting this need, and resources for practitioners.

In Exploring the prevalence of suspension and expulsion practices in child care settings in South Carolina, Heather Smith Googe of the University of South Carolina and Herman Knopf of the University of Florida reports on the prevalence of suspension and expulsion amongst licensed and registered child care providers in South Carolina. This first-of-its-kind research in the state reports on differences between setting types as well as age of the child.

ICS has been following early childhood expulsion, particularly with an eye towards implicit bias and how boys of color are disproportionately impacted and how families, teachers, and administrators can begin addressing this issue. Building from this, in early 2020, ICS will release a new brief related to Mental Health Issues of Preschool Children, collaborating with Kerrie Schnake of the Medical University of South Carolina and Angie Baum of the University of South Carolina. The issues around mental health, trauma, and the need for both child and family intervention are very timely, ICS is proud to work on a cross-sector response to these needs. For updates on this work, including receiving the paper when it is released, please subscribe to our newsletter.

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