The Duchess of Cambridge’s powerful keynote speech to unveil the results of her early years research has been labelled a “landmark moment” in her royal journey.
Kate spoke passionately and confidently about the vital project, which looked at the crucial role the first five years play in raising the next generation.
More than half a million people answered her call to join her study into the perceptions of early childhood – which reports that only one in four people recognise the key importance of the first 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.
In her passionate keynote speech, Kate explains that her interest in the early years began way before she had her own children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.
She said: “People often ask why I care so passionately about the early years.
“Many mistakenly believe 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 role others can play in shaping our most formative years too.”
The research has been hailed a “milestone moment” for Kate, and will be used to shape her future focus on early years development.
In her speech she said: “I believe the early years should be on par with the other great social challenges and opportunities of our time
“Next year will will announce ambitious plans to support this objective.”
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.
She said: “Over the last decade I have met people from all walks of life.
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“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.”
Kate says the “social cost” of late intervention had been estimated at more than £17 billion a year, for young people who needed support for problems which might have been prevented when they were children.
Earlier this year, 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.
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 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.”
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 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.
-- to www.mirror.co.uk