Voices’ Blog

Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation

Posted:  -  By: Ashley Airington

Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation: Addressing Preschool Suspension and Expulsion in Virginia

It is well documented that the first years of life are critical for building the foundation of social-emotional development needed for success in school and later in life. During these early years, brain development is rapid and influenced by the experiences they share with their family, teachers, and peers. While most children successfully progress in their social and emotional development, some children need additional support in managing behaviors, regulating their emotions and building healthy relationships.

Recent National data indicates that expulsions and suspensions occur regularly in early childhood settings and at a much higher rate than in K-12 education. 2016 data from the National Survey of Children’s Health estimate that about 50,0000 preschoolers were suspended at least once, and at least 17,000 were expelled. Evidence shows that young children who are suspended or expelled in the early school years are as much as 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure and grade retention, hold negative attitudes toward school, and face incarceration than those who are not.

Preschool Suspension and Expulsion practices in Virginia

According to data collected by VDOE and reported in the Legal Aide Justice Center’s “Suspended Progress” report, 205 Virginia preschoolers were suspended from public pre-k during the 2016-17 school year.

Early childhood educators play an important role in the lives of children in their care by fostering critical  health social and emotional growth. Despite the critical role  ECE providers play in shaping the development of generations of children, early childhood teachers are often underpaid and work in demanding environments in which they must meet the needs of dozens of children each day. These challenges can drive educators to burnout and leave the profession. The good news is that support for the early childhood workforce through mental health consultation has been found to be effective.

In a recent report from our friends at the National Center for Children in Poverty, over 900 early childhood educators in Virginia were asked about their experiences working with children with challenging behavior. The findings from this study found:

  • 90% of teachers reported having at least one child in their care with challenging
  • 40% reported that children with challenging behaviors lived in families experiencing trauma or hardship.
  • 63% of teachers recommended increasing access to Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation. 

Check out the full report here. 


Policy Solutions to address preschool expulsion practices in Virginia:

While its never acceptable for a child to be expelled from his or her ECE program, there is good news. Research shows that early childhood mental health consultation models can play an important role in reducing teacher stress and burnout, addressing challenging behaviors  and can yield positive social and emotional outcomes for children, including reducing preschool expulsions.

Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (ECMHC) is a multilevel preventive intervention that teams mental health professionals with early care professionals who work with young children and their families to improve their social-emotional development. ECMHC builds the capacity of teachers, providers, and families and includes skilled observations, the strengthening of teacher-family relationships, teacher training, identification of children with or at-risk for behavioral, developmental, or mental health difficulties, and linkages to additional support services.


HJ 51 (Sickles/Hanger): Feasibility study of implementing Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation 

This resolution asks the Department of Education, Dept. of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and Dept. of Social Services to jointly study the feasibility of developing a statewide early childhood mental health consultation model available to all early care and education programs serving children birth to five years of age. The above agencies will convene a workgroup comprised of national, state and local experts to study and identify the following:

  • Effective models of early childhood mental health consultation;
  • The appropriate state agency to scale up a statewide early childhood mental health consultation program;
  • Funding streams to support statewide implementation;
  • A plan for scaling up the early childhood mental health workforce that builds off existing resources; and
  • To make recommendations for legislative, regulatory, budgetary and other actions necessary to implement such a plan.

A report of the workgroups’ findings and recommendations will be presented to the General Assembly no later than the first day of the 2021 session. It is our hope that this study will lay the foundation for state investments in ECMHC during the 2021 session.

We are incredibly thankful to Delegate Sickles (chief patron) and Senator Hanger, both children’s mental health and early education champions, for being patrons of this resolution.

Call to ACTION: Voice your support for early childhood mental health consultation, by using the link below to connect with House Rules Committee members about this study. 

Support HJ51 (Del. Sickles/Sen. Hanger) to study the feasibility of implementing a statewide Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation model




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