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The Duchess of Cambridge has declared “the time for action is now” on the issue of early childhood development, describing it as the “social equivalent of climate change”.
Kate was speaking as she gathered a panel of experts at a leading London university to discuss the inaugural report of her new Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood.
She insisted she was not looking for a “quick win” with her early years work, but wanted to take a “holistic approach” to better prepare the next generation of parents.
And she hoped her new institution would make it “more common to speak about emotions and feelings”, enabling adults to better understand how affection affects their own behaviour.
Speaking during the roundtable discussion at the London School of Economics, Kate said she was “really excited” to launch the centre.
She added: “So my hope today, through the report and through this new centre, to show that change really needs to happen, and the time for action is now.
“Because I feel that this is the social equivalent of climate change, where we followed the science for many, many years.
“And that is what we have to do with early childhood development if we want to build a happier, healthier world.
“The more we learn about early childhood and the first five years of life the greater imperative it is to act.”
The centre will be based at Kensington Palace and marks the culmination of ten years of work by the duchess into the importance of the formative years of a child’s life.
The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood stems from research which shows the first five years of childhood fundamentally shape adulthood, with social challenges such as addiction, violence, family breakdown, homelessness and mental health having their roots in the earliest years of life.
Three key areas will be the focus of the new organisation – research, developing new solutions with public and private voluntary sectors, and campaigns to raise awareness.
Its website will showcase its major initiatives, highlight its research, and act as a platform for those who want to find out more about the impact of early childhood.
The centre’s Big Change Starts Small inaugural report, written in collaboration with The Centre on the Developing Child at Harvard University and the London School of Economics, revealed that the cost of lost opportunity is £16.3 billion in England alone.
The duchess was joined for the discussion by leading academics, some from charities she formally supports, including representatives from Maternal Mental Health Alliance, Mind, Place2Be, the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Future Men.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said behind the statistics about the economic impact of not investing in the early years was “the reality” of lives lost and ruined.
He said: “That, of course, is the greatest tragedy of all and I think it’s so important, when you start looking at the damage that has often happened, it all too often tracks back to what’s been happening in people’s early years.”
Dr Guddi Singh, a paediatric registrar at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Parenting hasn’t had the elevation that it needs in this country, and in fact in any western country. It’s about tackling that as an issue.”
Later, at Kensington Palace, the duchess was reunited with people she has met over the last decade who have helped to shape her understanding of the importance of the early years.
Kate spoke with Julie Muir, who has met the duchess twice before, in 2015 and 2020, at women’s prison, HMP Send.
Kate said about her work on early years development: “This started in HMP and hearing your stories. It was these conversations that made me realise how important this was.”
Julie Muir, 40, who was in prison as a young woman for drug-related offences but is now head of recovery and housing for the Forward Trust, which runs programmes in prisons surrounding addiction, spoke about the impact of the pandemic on families.
She said: “I feel flattered to be part of the change in the duchess that has helped her refocus her energy on the early years.”