A recent study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing has found that kindergartners who are “behind in social-behavioral development” are more likely to have problems later in school. These problems include being held back, requiring individualized support, and even being suspended or expelled.

The study looked at 9,000 elementary school kids in Baltimore who had been considered “not ready” for kindergarten were, by fourth grade subject to a number of negative impacts. 80% of those students were likely to be retained in one of their grades, while 80% were also likely to receive specialized services or support. They were also up to 7 times more likely to be suspended or expelled, and boys were more likely to be assessed as not ready for school and to suffer from all three difficulties.

These results tell us some important things about how children are, or aren’t learning in school. Children who are socially “behind” their peers tend to fall behind academically, which then compounds over the years as they struggle and, sometimes, give up hope of succeeding. It’s no wonder that these kids lash out or break the rules, which makes the situation even harder on them.

The authors of the study are urging a greater focus on pre-school development, helping kids to develop the social and behavioral skills they need to succeed before they are faced with challenges that require those skills. Many of these children face difficulties at home, from stressors like poverty or trauma, which impact about 30% of the elementary aged kids in Baltimore. Finding ways to help these kids early on will not only help them succeed later in life, but will also end up costing less in the long run. Specialized services, lost wages due to staying home with suspended kids, and the cost of juvenile justice programs can all run expensive, and preventing such problems before they start is a solid investment.