Kate committed to bringing about early years change as landmark study unveiled

The duchess has been the driving force behind the research, the largest of its kind in the UK on perceptions of early childhood.

The Duchess of Cambridge
The Duchess of Cambridge

The Duchess of Cambridge is to warn of the crucial role early years play in raising the next generation of adults and shaping society, as her landmark research on the issue is published.

Kate has been the driving force behind the study – the largest of its kind in the UK on perceptions of early childhood – which reports that only one in four people recognise the key importance of the first five years of a child’s life.

While 98% believe that nurture is essential to lifelong outcomes, some 24% think pregnancy to age five is the most pivotal period for health and happiness in adulthood.

Kate
The Duchess of Cambridge holding the early years study (Kensington Palace/PA)

Kate will deliver a keynote speech, hailed as a passionate and personal address, at an online Royal Foundation forum to discuss the study on Friday.

It is understood the duchess will come across in a new light as she sets out her commitment to the issue.

The research has been hailed a “milestone moment” for Kate, and will be used to shape her future focus on early years development.

Kensington Palace said next year the duchess will announce ambitious plans to help elevate the importance of early childhood.

More than half-a-million people took part in the Royal Foundation’s “five big questions on the under-fives” poll which was carried out by Ipsos MORI and produced the largest-ever response from the public to a survey of its kind.

Kate
Kate during a visit to London Early Years Foundation Stockwell Gardens Nursery and Pre-school in January (Phil Harris/Daily Mirror/PA)

Although 90% see parental mental health and wellbeing as critical to a child’s development, only 10% of parents took time to look after themselves when they prepared for the arrival of their baby, the research says.

The study – which has produced five key insights – also showed that the Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically increased parental loneliness, with 38% experiencing this before the crisis, and 63% – almost two-thirds – after the first lockdown, a jump of 25%.

The duchess will say in her keynote address: “Over the last decade I have met people from all walks of life.

“I have seen that experiences such as homelessness, addiction and poor mental health are often grounded in a difficult childhood.

“But I have also seen how positive protective factors in the early years can play a crucial role in shaping our futures …

“The early years are not simply about how we raise our children. They are in fact about how we raise the next generation of adults.

“They are about the society we will become.”

Duchess of Cambridge
The duchess at a briefing on the data this week with Kelly Beaver, managing director of public affairs, Ipsos MORI (Kensington Palace/PA)

Kate has made early years development one of the main pillars of her public role since she first became a member of the royal family.

The survey aims to encourage a nationwide conversation on the subject and raise awareness of how the first five years of a child’s life will impact the next 50 years.

Scientific consensus shows it is considered the most pivotal age for development, future health and happiness, compared to any other single period, the report says.

Kensington Palace described it as a “milestone moment” for the duchess’s work in this area.

Jason Knauf, chief executive of the Royal Foundation, said of Kate in the report’s foreword: “She has seen over and over again how often problems can be traced back to the earliest years of someone’s life and it has become her ambition to bring about change in this area.”

He added: “Action is what we need. Within these pages lie the opportunities and obstacles which we must collectively embrace if we are to give every child in this country the very best odds in life.”

Kate meeting a group of parents and carers in south Wales
Kate meeting a group of parents and carers in south Wales (Arthur Edwards/The Sun/PA)

Other findings include how feeling judged can make a bad situation worse, with seven out of every 10 parents feeling judged by others, and almost half (48%) saying this negatively affected their mental health.

The study also highlighted how experiences during lockdown differed for the most deprived communities.

Loneliness for parents was more common in deprived locations, with 13% feeling lonely often or always – nearly three times more than the 5% in the least deprived areas.

The investigation also found that two-fifths (40%) feel that community support has grown during the pandemic, but in the most deprived areas it was 33% and in the least deprived areas 52%.

The cost of late intervention is estimated to be around £17 billion per year in England and Wales, according to figures from 2016.

The report concluded that society as a whole needs to be more supportive of parents and families in the early years, with more done to promote the importance of early years, and better support networks to improve parental mental health.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, described it as “concerning, though unfortunately not surprising” that so few people were aware that pregnancy to age five was such a key time.

“We know that the first five years of a child’s life are absolutely critical for a child’s long-term life chances, and yet all too often, education and learning is seen as something that begins at the school gates,” he said.

“At a time when many parents of young children have been cut off from their normal sources of help, and can only seek limited support from family and friends, it is vital that the Government recognises the value of the early years and ensures that the vital services that provide such important support to parents and families across the country are able to continue to do so.”

The forum will be hosted by TV presenter Dr Xand van Tulleken, who is Associate Professor of Public Health at University College London, but best known as half of the twin-presenter duo from CBBC’s Operation Ouch!

A panel discussion will be held with paediatricians and psychiatrists.

The full data will be shared with those who work in both early years and academic research, and is also expected to be seen by the Government.

The research included further qualitative and ethnographic research, a nationally representative survey conducted before the pandemic and, at Kate’s request, a further survey on the impact of Covid-19 on families.

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