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Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, Division of Social Services Program, Policy and Development Unit, Purchase of Care

Best Practice Statement for the Prevention of Expulsion and Suspension In Delaware Early Childhood Programs

For the purpose of this statement, “Early Childhood Programs” shall mean all Delaware licensed child care programs participating in the Purchase of Care program, caring for children five years of age and younger.

The early years of a child’s life are influenced by all experiences, both negative and positive. These years set the trajectory for relationships and successes that they will experience for the rest of their lives. Therefore, it should be of great concern to everyone in the early education field that recent national data indicates that children are being suspended or expelled from early education programs at alarmingly high rates. In the 2003 and 2004 school years, more than 5,000 pre-K students across the nation were expelled from state-funded programs. In addition, the research indicates that there are significant racial and gender disparities in this practice with African American males making up only 19% of preschool enrollment, but 45% of preschoolers suspended. [i]

Young children who are expelled are 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, hold negative school attitudes and face incarceration than those who are not. [ii] The decision to suspend or expel a child from an early education program may not be based solely on the child’s behavior, however. Some other factors which often influence the decision to suspend or expel include program issues such as group sizes, child-teacher ratios, the availability of consultants to assist classroom teachers and support staff, the level of a teacher’s education, teacher depression, teacher job stress, etc. [iii]

Further, when administered in a discriminatory manner, suspension and expulsion of children may violate Federal civil rights laws. Recipients of Federal financial assistance are obligated to administer student discipline without regard to race, color or national origin.[iv]  This research demonstrates that this is, in fact, what is occurring and is the impetus for the joint policy statement on suspension and expulsion in early childhood programs from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Dept. of Education. States are now required to heighten awareness and are strongly encouraged to develop a statewide suspension and expulsion policy. Also, each state must document in its Child Care and Development Fund State Plan how it intends to address this issue.

Delaware is committed to ensuring that all of our children receive the best early education possible by using a proactive and systemic approach to building resilience, and finding alternatives to preschool suspension and expulsion. Using this as a foundation, Delaware has developed this “Best Practice Statement for the Prevention of Expulsion and Suspension from Early Childhood Programs”.

Definitions [v]

Expulsion-terminating enrollment of a child or family in the regular group setting because of a challenging behavior or a health condition.

Suspension-all other reductions in the amount of time a child may be in attendance of the regular group setting, either by requiring the child to cease attendance for a particular period of time or reducing the number of days or amount of time that a child may attend.

Best Practice Statement
This Best Practice Statement applies to all children in early childhood programs, and is designed to prevent, severely limit and ultimately eliminate the use of expulsion, suspension and other exclusionary discipline practices due to children’s challenging behaviors.

All Delaware licensed child care programs serving children five years of age and younger and who accept Purchase of Care families are required to develop and implement a suspension and expulsion policy with the understanding that these exclusionary measures are to be used only as a last resort in these cases:

  1. There is a determination of a serious safety threat and
  2. A detailed progression of intermediate interventions for the child or others has been implemented and documented.

Part B and Part C Inclusion

When a child with an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) or an Individualized Education Program (IEP) exhibits persistent challenging behaviors, special considerations are enacted due to procedural safeguards and due process rights ensured under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), Parts C and B. Documentation may be required by the IFSP or IEP teams detailing attempts to address the behaviors and alternate placement plans developed to ensure continuation of special education and related services.

The policy is to be clearly communicated to staff upon hire and families upon enrollment. A comprehensive policy should include but is not limited to:

  1. Preventive guidance and discipline practices: Programs must develop and clearly communicate appropriate social-emotional and behavioral health promotion practices, discipline and intervention procedures. These practices should include a systematic, uniform process for managing challenging behavior prior to the use of an exclusionary method. This must include communication with a parent regarding the behavior, and could include consultation with a school counselor when appropriate or consultation with an early childhood mental health specialist, etc.
  2. Development of an Expulsion and Suspension Policy: Programs must develop and clearly communicate its policy on this method of discipline in its parent and staff handbooks. The focus should be on inclusion and positive collaboration with families. Program staff and families should be made aware that such a policy exists and specifically what it entails. Program staff and families should be aware that this practice is a last resort after all supports have been exhausted including the use of an early childhood mental health professionals.
  3. Staff training and support: Program staff should be trained to provide social and emotional nurturing and redirection for each individual child, particularly those who present challenging behaviors. Trainings should include topics such as developmentally appropriate behavior, cultural responsiveness, family engagement, Adverse Childhood Experiences, Trauma Informed Care, and evidence-based practices. These trainings should be provided on an ongoing basis. Staff should be encouraged to use online/free resources. Program staff should have access to additional supports such as early childhood mental health consultants, and, if available school counselors. Finally, programs should remain compliant with Delacare Regulations including appropriate staff-to-child ratios to reduce teacher burn out and/or stress.
  4. Data Collection: Programs should begin to collect baseline data to determine program goals and ensure fairness, equity and continuous quality improvement. Data should be monitored at least annually to assess progress and modify practices as necessary. Some examples of useful data include:

*Number of behavior incidents reported by race, gender and age
*Number of suspensions/expulsions reported by race, gender and age
*Number of behavior referrals reported by teacher

  1. Set Goals for Improvement: Based on data collected, programs should set realistic goals for improvement. Some goals could be:

*Provide annual professional development on cultural responsiveness
*Adopt a program-wide positive behavior intervention in one year
*Reduce the number of suspension and expulsions by 50% within a year

[i] Gilliam, W.S. (2005). Prekindergartners left behind: Expulsion rates in state prekindergarten systems. New York, NY: Foundation for Child Development.

[ii] Lamont, J.H. Devore, C.D., Allison, M., Ancona, R., Barnett, S.E., Gunther, R., and, Young, T. (2013) Out-of-Time suspension and expulsion. Pediatrics, 131(3), e1000-e1007.

[iii] What Could Make Less Sense Than Expelling a Preschooler? By Walter S. Gilliam,

[iv] Department of Education Office of Civil Rights and DOJ, Dear Colleague Letter on the Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline, at 3-4(2014),

[v] American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. 2011. Caring for our children: National health and safety performance standards; Guidelines for early care and education programs. 3rd Edition. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; Washington, DC: American Public Health Association. Also available at

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