For more than a decade, early childhood teachers have been reporting a rise in the number of children that display biting, hitting, and other challenging behaviors in their classrooms. Some even report expelling chronic offenders. In fact, according to a Yale University study, preschoolers are three times more likely to be expelled than their K–12 peers, usually for troublesome behavior.
With additional studies estimating that 10 to 20 percent of children in the United States have mental disorders with some level of functional impairment, expelling preschoolers does not really get to the root of the problem, says EDC’s Patricia Fahey.
“While many early education providers address social, mental, and wellness issues for young children in their programming, the expulsion study helped to launch a national debate on how well communities are supporting the needs of young children,” she explains.
That national debate has led to the formation of Project LAUNCH (Linking Actions for Unmet Needs in Children’s Health), which focuses on improving all aspects of children’s health from birth to age 8. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is providing funding for Project LAUNCH to the states of Arizona, Maine, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Washington, as well as the tribal community of Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewas.
“By providing young children with supportive and nurturing environments, we can promote healthy development and prevent problems before they occur,” says Eric Broderick, acting administrator for SAMSHA.
EDC is providing training and technical assistance to Project LAUNCH staff, which includes developing materials, conducting conference calls and webinars, and providing training in such topics as developing a strategic plan and implementing practices that work.
LAUNCH reflects a public health approach. “Our goal is to ensure that all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential and experience optimal development,” explains Fahey. “While LAUNCH programs will include efforts to address behavioral disorders at the earliest possible opportunity, they will focus the majority of their resources on promoting wellness and preventing future mental health issues, such as addiction, dropout, and crime in adolescents and adults.”
Individual communities will carry out local health interventions, while states will develop ways to sustain and replicate the interventions in other communities. Each of the grantees will build upon its existing child-serving systems and implement a range of public health strategies. The expansion of services will focus on the areas of mental health consultation, developmental assessments, the integration of behavioral health programs into primary care, family strengthening and parent training, and home visitation programs.
“For children to grow and enter school ready to learn, we must look at their physical, social, and emotional development,” says Fahey.
Project LAUNCH is conducted through the National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention at EDC in partnership with the American Institutes for Research and the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development.
Originally published on July 13, 2009