I remember eating breakfast at preschool for the first time. We had scrambled eggs and toast. I was more accustomed to eating eggs with a tortilla, but I figured bread would suffice in helping me scoop up the eggs like we did at home. The chorus of three-year-olds surrounding me immediately exploded into giggles; one girl asked me if I didn’t know how to eat with a fork and another remarked that I was “eating it wrong.” I was so embarrassed and confused, but I held it all in. That evening I recounted the whole traumatizing incident with tears in my eyes, and my mother assured me that it was okay to be different, and we talked about how to handle situations like that in the future.
It wasn’t exactly a defining moment in my life, but it could’ve been, had it played out differently. I had the language skills to express my feelings. I had the emotional control not to lash out at my classmates. I had a mother who provided me with coping mechanisms and worked with my teacher to create a trusted space to talk about future incidents. Many kids aren’t nearly as lucky.
Children are coming to preschool at various stages of development; teachers are working with children who may need more support and resources. Behavioral health and development is crucial at this age, but many childcare centers, preschools, and other educational settings lack options for addressing challenging behaviors, and as a result they may rely on disciplinary measures. Harsh ones.
A brief from the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (PDF) found that, “preschool children are expelled at three times the rate of children in Kindergarten through 12th grade.” And, of those, at least 42% are African American boys. The data also suggest preschool classrooms disproportionally suspend students with disabilities or English Learners, [which are] students who could benefit from daily attendance in preschool programs.”
The reasons a child may fall behind his or her peers in social and emotional development are many: abuse (physical, emotional, sexual), neglect, household substance abuse, household mental illness, divorce, incarceration of a household member, and more. In the vernacular, they’re known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and they have significant long-term health effects. Children of color and children growing up in poverty are more at risk for high ACE scores.
Around Colorado, many initiatives are underway to both reduce childhood trauma and its impact. State-level partnerships have formed to increase training for health care providers, address disproportionate suspension and expulsion practices, and improve data collection and analysis. A recent Colorado Children’s Campaign report (PDF) highlights policy options for supporting children’s mental health. And, several health alliances around the state, alliances that are members of CCMU’s Network of Health Alliances, are discussing approaches to incorporate ACE scores into health care services at their local community health centers.
It’s said it takes a village to raise a child; collaboration between public and private sectors, local government, schools, childcare providers, families, and the broad community remain crucial in supporting children’s social and emotional development. Together, we can tackle this issue from many angles to accelerate our progress. As I learned, there are many ways to eat eggs—I recommend we try them all.