Dr. Walter Gilliam visits Southwest Human Development to talk expulsion prevention

Dr. Walter Gilliam, associate professor of child psychiatry and psychology at Yale University, visited Phoenix earlier this month to keynote at the First Things First Early Childhood Summit and also hosted a question-and-answer session focused on preschool expulsion with Southwest Human Development staff. 

Gilliam is the foremost expert in preschool expulsion, having published the first major study on preschool expulsion in 2005. His research focuses on early childhood education and intervention policy, mental healthiness of pre-kindergarten and child care services, early childhood expulsions and suspensions, and the impact of early childhood education programs on children’s school readiness.

Gilliam’s 2005 research paper found that young children in pre-kindergarten programs are expelled at three times the rate of children in kindergarten through 12th grade. For childcare programs, the rate of expulsion is 13 times the rate for K-12.

While preschool expulsion is banned in some states, some preschools find ways around the ban, Gilliam says. Preschools may suspend children multiple times or send them home early until their parents have no choice but to pull them out of preschool. And while expulsion bans might not be a comprehensive or even fully successful policy, Gilliams says that they start conversations about expulsion prevention.

Bringing attention to the problem of preschool expulsion can open the door to other options like support resources within preschools and mobilizing efforts to install these resources. Gilliam says that mental health consultants are key to addressing a child’s behavioral challenges and calls for more policies to be put in place to allow preschools and childcare centers to have the support and resources needed to help young children become school-ready.

Gilliam also stressed the importance of effective training for preschool teachers and child care professionals. Training should include trauma-informed care, which starts with empathy according to Gilliam. Understanding that a child might have faced or might be currently be facing challenges at home can help teachers relate to children and possibly find a more equitable solution. And by having “equitable interaction” — one on one connections with individual students — preschool teachers can ensure that each child gets the help they need for their development. 

Read more about preschool expulsion in this article from our own Alison Steier, Ph.D.