Report on new Illinois law addressing early childhood expulsions

Illinois is one of only a few states to pass broad legislation to curtail expulsion from early childhood education and child care programs.

According to the law, which went into effect in January 2018, programs funded by the Illinois State Board of Education or licensed by the Department of Children and Family Services must make every possible effort to retain a child. They must also document their use of any and all available resources, services and interventions.

The law represents unprecedented coordination across state agencies, advocacy groups and service providers, according to Kate Zinsser, assistant professor of psychology and principal investigator at the Social-Emotional Teaching and Learning Lab at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Zinsser and researchers at UIC conducted a preliminary investigation of Illinois early childhood programs’ current and prior expulsion practices, in addition to their understanding of and responses to the new law. Their findings are featured in the new report, “Evaluation Report of the Implementation of Illinois Public Act 100-0105: Early childhood programs’ knowledge of and responses to the 2018 expulsion legislation.”

“Our intention behind this research was to come back with useable information that could inform the next step in the process here in Illinois and in other states hoping to reduce the use of exclusionary discipline in preschool,” said Zinsser, a co-author of the report.

The researchers surveyed administrators from more than 150 Illinois early childhood programs, which serve over 9,000 children combined. Follow-up interviews were conducted with 25 administrators who represented subsets of respondents who self-reported high and low knowledge of the legislation and those serving urban and non-urban populations.

About 35% of the responding programs had expelled at least one child in the past year. On average, programs expelled almost 2% of children enrolled in their programs.

“Even if the majority of children won’t, thankfully, experience an expulsion, this is still a fairly high proportion of programs that are struggling to retain children who display challenging behaviors,” Zinsser said.

The responses reveal varying levels of knowledge about the law, comfort and confidence complying with stipulations, perceived benefits and unintended consequences, as well as historic and expected disciplinary procedures and prior experiences and barriers accessing evidence-based resources and supports.

Some of the recommendations include:

  • Improved research and sharing of programs’ best practices through a centralized resource or online community where program administrators and teachers can seek advice, resources and support from peers to manage problem-solving and system reforms.
  • The researchers cite a forthcoming state-wide data collection system as necessary to accurately record expulsion rates and child demographic characteristics, along with a corresponding auditing system to ensure data quality for future research and evaluation.
  • Future communications related to compliance and rules should specifically target programs that are “least connected,” such as private center-based and home care programs.
  • In addition to expanding access to evidence-based resources, such as in-person mental health consultation, remote/video-based consultation should be considered and tested to reduce long wait times for initial observations, particularly in rural areas.

According to the researchers, the geographical size, distribution of resources and supports, and significant shortages in the workforce all pose challenges to the implementation of this law in Illinois.

“Our findings point to systematic differences by program type, location and funding sources in who knows about the law and how able they are to comply with it. We need to rethink how funding and regulation systems facilitate the need to change the approach to early childhood care and education in a way that ensures equity and retention, and supports teachers in their work and families in their engagement,” Zinsser said. “I’m grateful that Illinois is trying hard to build policies that will support that kind of work. Now we just need to make sure the programs have access to the resources they need to follow through on it.”

The report is co-authored by UIC psychology doctoral students H. Callie Silver, Qaswa Hussaini and Courtney A. Zulauf.

The analysis was supported by funding from the American Psychological Association’s Division 27, the Society for Community Research and Action, and the UIC Office of Social Science Research.

Community partners who informed the design, analysis and interpretation of these results include representatives from the UIC College of Education, The Ounce of Prevention Fund, the Illinois Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, Illinois Action for Children, Illinois Head Start Association, Messiah Head Start and the UIC Children’s Center.

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