Children with disabilities are at increased risk of being suspended or expelled from their early childhood education settings.



The PIES Project

  • "PIES" stands for Promoting Inclusion and Exploring Supports for Children with Specialized Needs in Early Childhood Education Settings: Recommendations to Prevention Suspension and Expulsion. This is the formal title of the published study.
  • The early childhood education (ECE) system in Vermont includes care and education for children ages 0 to 5. Families can access the ECE system through publicly funded pre-K, Head Start, and childcare centers.
  • The state’s Child Development Division decided to partner with researchers from the University of Vermont to learn more about the strengths and challenges of accessing the ECE system in VT.

We wanted to know:

  1. How many young children (ages 0-6) with disabilities are being suspended or expelled from ECE settings?
  2. What supports are in place to help families of children with disabilities gain access to and remain in their ECE settings?
  3. What are the barriers to including children with disabilities in ECE settings?
  4. What recommendations are suggested to improve the ECE system in VT to ensure inclusion and accessibility for children with disabilities?

The research team worked completed this work in a three-month period. They gathered information from many sources, including VT state leaders, professionals in the field, and parents.

And what we learned was that many families and their children are not receiving any support or services in these settings despite their need for them.



The researchers worked with CDD to create a recruitment flyer for parents inviting them to participate in a focus group.

• The flyer stated that the purpose of the research was to learn how CDD could better support families and young children with a disability in their ECE setting.
• The flyer was shared through social media outlets and targeted email listservs.
• Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all focus groups were held virtually.
• Parents were given the choice to complete an electronic survey or to
participate in the focus group.
• Parents were offered $25 for their time if they participated in a focus group.
• Only four parents participated in a focus group, so they were interviewed individually.
• Sixteen parents completed the electronic survey.


Who participated in the study?

• All 16 parents identified as female. Fifteen were moms. One was a grandmother.
• Different kinds of moms were represented in the sample.
• Nine (56.3%) were biological moms.
• Five (31.3%) were adoptive moms.
• One (6.3%) was a foster mom.
• Fourteen (87.5%) identified as White. One (6.3%) identified as Asian. One (6.3%) identified as Native American. All 16 parents identified as non-Hispanic.
• Ages ranged from 24 to 55, with a mean of 37.75 (SD = 6.97).

Why Does It Matter?

Those with lived experience have an important form of expertise that should be included in quality improvement projects. In this project, parents’ experiences provided evidence for the set of recommendations that were put forth to the state of Vermont to improve the early childhood education system for children with disabilities.

Icon of a clipboard, pen and speech bubble. Text: CDCI Research

Find out more

Thumbnail of PIES poster


Contact the Authors

Jesse Suter


Lori E. Meyer

associate professor, education


Kaitlin Northey

Kaitlin Northey


assistant Professor, education



Kaitlin Northey

Valerie F. Wood


Research assistant professor