Kate visited University College London’s (UCL) Centre for Longitudinal Studies to meet the group which has launched The Children of the 2020s, which will track the holistic development of children, from the age of nine months to five years, across England.
The research will look at a wide range of factors affecting a children’s development and education, from the home environment and community to early years services and the broader social and economic circumstances of the family.
Before arriving at UCL Kate said: “Our early childhoods shape our adult lives and knowing more about what impacts this critical time is fundamental to understanding what we as a society can do to improve our future health and happiness.
“The landmark Children of the 2020s study will illustrate the importance of the first five years and provide insights into the most critical aspects of early childhood, as well as the factors which support or hinder positive lifelong outcomes.
“I am committed to supporting greater in-depth research in this vital area and I’m delighted to be meeting all those behind the study at this early stage.”
The Children of the 2020s study is being conducted by UCL’s Faculty of Brain Sciences and its Institute of Education and has been commissioned and funded by the Department for Education.
During a roundtable discussion with the academics, the duchess said she had noticed the impact of social issues closer to home after looking back at four generations of her own family tree.
Professor Alissa Goodman, the study’s co-investigator and director of the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at UCL’s Institute of Education, said afterwards: “The conversation was about how you can see big changes in society and how much that’s affected the experiences of different generations.”
Professor Pasco Fearon, UCL’s Chair in Developmental Psychopathology and principal investigator of the new study, added: “Intergenerational patterns of inequality are very rigid and hard to hack.
“We were talking in the meeting about what are the key points of opportunity where you can disrupt those generational patterns and get to a better outcome that might have had a history of really difficult experiences.”
Kate has spent a decade working to highlight the importance of the formative years of a child’s life and has established her Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood.
The new organisation has three key areas of focus: research, developing new solutions with public and private voluntary sectors, and campaigns to raise awareness.
The roundtable discussion was shown graphs charting brain development from early childhood to early adulthood and how the environment plays a crucial role as a higher socio-economic status correlates to a greater amount of grey matter in a young child’s brain.
Another slide explained how the study would look at factors like parental mental health, trauma, life events, stressors and regional and neighbourhood characteristics in relation to child development.
During the visit, the duchess was shown archive material of historic research into early childhood dating back to the 1940s, including a birth questionnaire given to new mothers in 1958.
“We had answers to questions around who looked after the husband while the woman went into hospital,” said Professor Goodman.
“Oh, it was different, then,” the duchess said.
Professor Goodman said about a question on smoking: “About a third of women reported that they had smoked during pregnancy and it was from that question that it led to more research around the effects of smoking on the baby relating to cognitive development and other issues in later life.”
Kate will carry out more engagements supporting the study, something welcomed by Professor Goodman: “We were very impressed with her interest and knowledge and hopefully she’ll be back to see how we are doing, that would be amazing.”