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Duchess of Cambridge warns against ignoring the importance of early child development in landmark speech

Robert Jobson
·5-min read
<p>In a keynote speech, delivered virtually, to mark publication of her landmark research, Kate highlighted how problems in early childhood are the root cause of fundamental social challenges </p> (PA)

In a keynote speech, delivered virtually, to mark publication of her landmark research, Kate highlighted how problems in early childhood are the root cause of fundamental social challenges

(PA)

The Duchess of Cambridge has warned against ignoring the importance of early child development as it is an major issue that shapes the type of society we will become.

In a keynote speech, delivered virtually, to mark publication of her landmark research, Kate highlighted how problems in early childhood are the root cause of fundamental social challenges - such as family break down and mental health issues.

She said: “We must do all we can to tackle these issues and to elevate the importance of the early years, so that together we can build a more nurturing society.

“Because I believe, the early years should be on par with the other great social challenges and opportunities of our time. And next year, we will announce ambitious plans to support this.

"It is a brave thing to believe in an outcome - in a world even - that might not be fully felt for a generation or more.

“But what you do isn't for the quick win - it is for the big win. It is for a happier, healthier society as well as happier, healthier children."

The Duchess also spoke about her own interest in the early years and highlighted the important part that all of society has to play in raising the next generation.

<p>Kate working on her childhood study</p>PA

Kate working on her childhood study

PA

She said:“People often ask why I care so passionately about the early years. Many mistakenly believe that my interest stems from having children of my own. While of course I care hugely about their start in life, this ultimately sells the issue short.

“Parenthood isn't a prerequisite for understanding the importance of the early years. If we only expect people to take an interest in the early years when they have children, we are not only too late for them, we are underestimating the huge role others can play in shaping our most formative years too.”The Duchess said it is her ambition to put the Early Years on an equal footing with the other great social challenges and opportunities of our time during an online forum hosted by The Royal Foundation.

The speech comes as The Duchess unveiled the findings of the biggest ever UK study on the early years, in a milestone moment for her work on the importance of early childhood in shaping the rest of our lives and broader societal outcomes.

The research, commissioned by The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and conducted by Ipsos MORI, reveals what the UK thinks about the early years.

It includes the findings of the 5 Big Questions survey which attracted over half a million responses earlier this year, making it the biggest ever survey of its kind.

The research published on Friday has generated 5 Big Insights which highlight the need to help people understand the importance of the early years and suggest that parents and carers need more support and advice to ensure good mental health and wellbeing as they raise young children.

Friday’s online forum was hosted by Dr Xand Van Tulleken (Associate Professor of Public Health at University College London) and featured a presentation from Ipsos MORI’s Managing Director of Public Affairs, Kelly Beaver.

Dr Trudi Seneviratne (Registrar, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Adult & Perinatal Psychiatrist & Clinical Director), Jon Rouse (City Director, Stoke-on-Trent City Council) and Dr Guddi Singh (Paediatric Doctor, Evelina Children’s Hospital, Guy’s & St.Thomas’) took part in a panel discussion on the findings of the research.

The 5 Big Insights are:

1) People overwhelmingly believe that a child’s future is not pre-determined at birth. However, most people don’t understand the specific importance of the early years.

Answering the 5 Big Questions, 98% of people believe nurture is essential to lifelong outcomes, but just one in four recognise the specific importance of the first five years of a child’s life.

2) The reality of life makes it hard for parents to prioritise their wellbeing.

90% of people see parental mental health and wellbeing as being critical to a child’s development, but in reality people do very little to prioritise themselves. Only 10% of parents mentioned taking the time to look after their own wellbeing when asked how they had prepared for the arrival of their baby. Worryingly, over a third of all parents (37%) expect the COVID pandemic to have a negative impact on their long-term mental wellbeing.

3) Feeling judged by others can make a bad situation worse.

70% of parents feel judged by others and among these parents, nearly half feel this negatively impacts their mental health.

4) People have been separated from family and friends during the pandemic and at the same time parental loneliness has dramatically increased. Disturbingly, people are also less willing to seek help for how they’re feeling.

Parental loneliness has dramatically increased during the pandemic from 38% before to 63% as parents have been cut off from friends and family. The increase in loneliness for parents is more apparent in the most deprived areas. These parents are more than twice as likely as those living in the least deprived areas to say they feel lonely often or always (13% compared with 5%). Compounding this, it seems there has been a rise in the proportion of parents who feel uncomfortable seeking help for how they are feeling from 18% before the pandemic to 34% during it.

5) During the COVID pandemic, support from local communities has substantially increased for many - but not for all.

Across the UK, communities have united powerfully to meet the challenge of unprecedented times. 40% of parents feel that community support has grown. However, parents in the most deprived areas are less likely to have experienced this increased support (33%) than elsewhere.