Want to end expulsions from preschool? Focus on parent/educator relationships

by Freya Lucas

April 05

The way that early childhood education and care (ECEC) educators perceive their relationships with parents is a contributing factor to children being removed from services (expelled), research from the University of Illinois at Chicago has found.

 

Specifically, when educators felt that parents weren’t working with them to manage challenging behaviour, they were more likely to say that they had “limited communication” with them, regardless of the amount of communication they were receiving.

 

The study, published in the American Educational Research Journal, also shows that when educators requested the removal of a child from the service, they were more likely to report that they were not offered adequate support by their service to assist them in interacting with parents, and promoting cooperation.

 

The research supports the perspectives shared by The Sector contributor, Sandi Phoenix, in her piece Expelled: Why banishing a three year old says more about the service than the child.

 

The study did not consult with parents, however the findings suggest that disciplinary practices which result in the removal of a child from an ECEC service can be reduced through:

 

  • Encouraging meaningful and reciprocal relationships with families

 

  • Addressing any issues at an early stage

 

  • Providing professional development that “promotes empathy toward parents and gives educators skills for working with parents facing different challenges”

 

Within the Australian context, behaviour based expulsions are of interest to the ECEC sector, with the number of children in their first and second year of schooling in Queensland (typically aged five – seven) who have been suspended or expelled as a disciplinary measure almost doubling in the past four years, according to this piece from the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC)


Since 2013, the ABC writes, more than 4,300 Queensland children have been suspended or excluded from their first year of school (Prep), and almost 9,000 children have been suspended or expelled in Year One.


Research conducted on the rates of expulsion amongst young children in the United States reveals that boys and African American students are at a much higher risk of being excluded from ECEC settings, meaning that when they enter school based settings, teachers may already be anticipating behavioural issues, and therefore exercising unconscious bias.

 

Speaking to the Australian context, researchers in Victoria found that, in 2016, between 14 and 16 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were expelled – a figure representing between 5 and 6 per cent of total expulsions – despite Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students making up less than 3 per cent of the school population.

 

This may suggest a similar bias existing in the Australian setting.


Researchers in the Chicago study found that asking educators and ECEC services to provide alternatives to suspension and expulsion without giving teachers ways to work in partnership with parents in relation to behaviour could make educators more frustrated.

 

In the study, the authors wrote about educators feeling “a sense of hopelessness” in relation to a particular child’s behaviour, and that the sense of hopelessness can increase chances of them asking for a child to be removed.

 

The study can be read in full here. For information on supporting positive relationships with families, visit the following links:

 

https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/early-childhood/professional-learning/working-with-parents-and-carers

 

http://sheffieldscb.proceduresonline.com/chapters/p_un_fam.html

 

https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/early-childhood/about-families/family-relationships/family-relationships-resources-families-and

 

https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/are-disadvantaged-families-hard-reach-engaging-disadva

 

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