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Hotline helps Ohio preschools deal with problem (behaviors)

October 23, 2017
Shannon Gilchrist
The Columbus Dispatch

Preschool children in the U.S. are more than three times as likely to be expelled from school as K-12 students, often for biting, kicking and other aggression.

Statistics are hard to pin down because the early child-care system is largely private and decentralized, but a 2005 study showed that, in Ohio, between four and seven children per 1,000 are removed from their preschools and day-care centers.

Knowing that school expulsions — even among children younger than 5 — can lead to problems in adulthood, the state has invested in programs to solve the problems before they get that serious. Officials point to early evidence that it’s working.

The teachers and director at ABC’s Educare day-care center on the South Side were reaching the end of their rope earlier this year with a few children who were prone to uncontrollable meltdowns and biting.

“If it starts to affect the other children, you just have to do what’s best for the whole center,” said ABC’s Educare Director Tina Jenkins. “When they get in your face, when they cuss you out, when they spit in your face, that’s when you think, ‘I need help beyond myself. I’ve already tried everything.’”

She recalled receiving some literature about a service that could help: a statewide hotline run out of Nationwide Children’s Hospital to help child-care centers work out problem behaviors instead of resorting to expulsion. Within 72 hours, experts show up to help the teachers.

Jenkins made the call, and when the two early-childhood mental-health consultants arrived and started offering advice, “it just felt so warm and friendly,” she said.

Their recommendations centered on how to calm the environment: Space out the furniture so that the children are less inclined to run. Post classroom rules. Set up a calming space for overwrought children who need to be apart from others to regulate their emotions.