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Mitigating the Relationship between Teacher Depression and Preschool Expulsion Requests in a Diverse, Urban Sample

Sat, March 23, 9:45 to 11:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 3, Room 330

Integrative Statement

Expulsion, at any age, is associated with negative outcomes such as academic failure, drop-out and involvement with the criminal justice system (APA, 2008; Council on School Health, 2013), but advocates are particularly concerned about the life course ramifications of exclusionary discipline of preschoolers, which occurs at rates exceeding those in K-12 (Gilliam, 2005). To curtail the rates of expulsion, systemic issues such as access to adequate early childhood mental health consultation (ECMHC) services (Gilliam & Shahar, 2006) must be well understood. ECMHCs provide support to programs and teachers managing challenging behaviors and have been shown to reduce staff turnover, burnout, and stress (Brennan et al., 2008). Their role is critical because the transactional relationship between teachers’ own mental health and children’s behaviors, both perceived and observed (e.g., Friedman-Krauss et al., 2014), can significantly affect children’s school experiences. Although prior research has examined ECMHCs’ roles in moderating expulsions and workplace stress, less is known about associations with another pressing concern in the early childhood workforce, teacher depression (Whitaker et. al., 2013). In this study, we examine whether and how early childhood mental health consultation ameliorates the hypothesized link between teachers’ experiences of depression and their requests to remove children from their care, a precursor of expulsion.

This study uses self-report survey data from early childhood teachers at community-based preschool programs in a large Midwestern city (N=124; see Table 1). Teachers reported on their depressive symptoms, center’s use of ECMHC, and requests for the permanent removal of one or more children from their classroom in the past 12 months. For the study’s logistic regression analysis, removal requests were binary coded such that “0” = no removal requests and “1” = 1 or more removal requests.

As expected, the greater a teacher’s depressive symptoms the more likely that teacher was to request the permanent removal of a child from their classroom (OR = 3.84, 95% CI = 1.51, 10.77). Through a logistic regression interaction and graphing predicted probabilities, we further found that when a center used ECMHC, the probability that a teacher requested a removal was significantly reduced (OR = .06, 95% CI = .002, .74).

One of the most salient takeaways from this study (see Figure 1) is the fact that while ECMHCs reduced expulsion request risk, they did not reduce teachers’ experiences of depressive symptoms. Thus, ECMHCs’ positive role in reducing preschool expulsion is not occurring through the reduction of teacher depression. However, we know from this study and other literature that poor teacher mental health can have a myriad of negative consequences on student-teacher relationships, and children’s social-emotional functioning (Hamre & Pianta, 2004; Jennings & Greenberg, 2009). Ultimately, supports and services may reduce the child-level harm that poor teacher mental health can cause, but a deliberate focus on improving the well-being of our early childhood workforce is needed, for the sake of both the adults in the profession and optimal child outcomes.

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