More than 10 percent of Maine’s teachers and child care providers have expelled students as young as 3 years old from their programs because of challenging behaviors such as hitting, pushing and biting, according to a new survey from the Maine Children’s Growth Council.

Advocates for children in Maine are concerned about what the statistics mean for those children and their families.

Sen. Cathy Breen, a Democrat from Falmouth, asked for the survey, which was conducted by the National Center for Children in Poverty. Breen said she had heard a few stories before on expulsions of preschoolers and kindergartners. But the study made her see just how widespread the problem is.

“That’s pretty stark information,” Breen said.

The study found that challenging behaviors, such as hitting and pushing, were found in 92 percent of pre-K classrooms. And they often come from children with family issues, including substance abuse, domestic violence and homelessness.

For children who do get expelled, more than half can’t find another child care provider. Or they end up in an unregulated setting that isn’t licensed by the state.

Peter Lindsay, co-chairman of the Maine Children’s Growth Council, said the state needs to figure out how to support providers and families to make sure those behaviors are handled properly, before they escalate.

“How do we support providers, support teachers, support families?” Lindsay said. “And work with families and providers, so that the child doesn’t have to leave? So they can stay in an educational setting and child care setting that’s appropriate for that child and working for that child.”

One solution that has shown promise is Connecticut’s system of early childhood mental health consultations. The program sends consultants to any child care setting in the state. Those consultants give training to providers and connect them with parents to work together through a problem, instead of jumping to punishment.

Breen said she’s interested in a number of ideas, including those consultations. She said she hopes to have a comprehensive policy to combat expulsions ready for deliberation by the next legislative session in December.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public Broadcasting Network.