Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Katie Hart

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee chair

Second Advisor's Name

Jonathan Comer

Second Advisor's Committee Title

committee member

Third Advisor's Name

Stacy Frazier

Third Advisor's Committee Title

committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Elizabeth Cramer

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

committee member


challenging behavior, Head Start, preschool

Date of Defense



Persistent challenging behaviors occur in approximately 30% of children in Head Start, yet only 2% receive services. Children with persistent challenging behaviors in Head Start do not experience the same academic benefit as their peers. Left untreated, behaviors persist and are related to a number of adverse outcomes, which disproportionately impact children from low-income, culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Preschool staff feel unprepared to manage challenging behaviors and experience high levels of stress and burnout, indicating need for workforce enhancement. Though interventions that address challenging behaviors in Head Start exist, these programs lack wide dissemination and rely heavily on coaching, training, and consultation from research staff, so the extent to which these practices are sustained is unknown. Rooted in implementation science, this mixed method-study aims to take the first step towards developing a method of Head Start workforce enhancement that is sustainable, acceptable, feasible, and culturally-responsive through (a) understanding current practices for children with challenging behaviors, (b) understanding perceptions of evidence-based strategies, and (c) identifying areas for workforce enhancement. Findings from quantitative survey analyses (n = 346) and qualitative focus groups (n = 57) reveal that staff generally use more universal and social-emotional strategies than targeted or individualized supports. Staff report frequent use of negative practices, including classroom removal, in management of challenging behaviors. Staff perceive a need for better understanding of strategies to manage challenging behaviors, and are mixed in their perceptions of evidence-based practices. Teacher characteristics (e.g., burnout, efficacy, work environment) and cultural factors are highly related to strategy use and perceptions, and should be addressed in interventions. Findings reveal strengths in the Head Start workforce in terms of understanding and use of universal and social emotional strategies, yet there is inconsistency in use and perception of targeted and evidence-based supports for children with persistent challenging behaviors. Staff are left to react in the face of serious challenging behaviors, leading use of negative practices. Intervention efforts should draw upon evidence-based practices and collaborate with the workforce to develop clear and consistent guidelines for management of challenging behaviors in Head Start to enhance both workforce capacity and child outcomes.





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