The Duchess of Cambridge has set up an early childhood research centre with the ambition of changing the way society thinks about the first five years of a child’s life, and transforming the lives of future generations.

The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood will focus on:

  • promoting and commissioning high-quality research to increase knowledge and share best practice
  • working with people from across the private, public and voluntary sectors to collaborate on new solutions, and
  • developing creative campaigns to raise awareness and inspire action, driving real, positive change in the early years.
  • To coincide with the launch, the Centre has published its inaugural report, Big Change Starts Small, which brings together leading sector research in one place and underlines the critical lifelong impact of the early years on individuals, the economy and society at large.

It also sets out recommendations on how all aspects of society can contribute positively and make a difference, highlighting the importance of the early years workforce.

The centre’s launch follows a landmark survey by the Duchess last year, the ‘5 Big Questions’ on the under-fives, published last November, which resulted in the largest-ever response to a survey on early childhood, Kensington Palace said.

In a video to accompany the launch of the Centre for Early Childhood, the Duchess said, ‘My own journey into understanding the importance of early childhood actually started with adults, and not with children. It was about prevention. I wanted to understand what more we could do to help prevent some of today’s toughest social challenges, and what more we could do to help with the rising rates of poor mental health. I’ve spoken to psychiatrists and neuroscientists, to practitioners and academics and parents alike, and what has become clear is that the best investment for our future health and happiness is in the first five years of life. And that is why today I am launching the Royal Foundation Centre for Early
Childhood.

‘Working closely with others, the centre hopes to raise awareness of why the first five years of life are just so important for our future life outcomes, and what we can do as a society to embrace this golden opportunity to create a happier, more mentally healthy, more nurturing society. By working together, my hope is that we can change the way we think about early childhood, and transform lives for generations to come. Because I truly believe big change starts small.’

Investing in the early years

The report, which was written in collaboration with The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and the London School of Economics, also reveals that ‘the cost of lost opportunity is £16.13 billion per year in England alone. This is the cost to society of the remedial steps we take to address issues – from children in care to mental and physical health issues – that might have been avoided through action in early childhood.’

It highlights six areas where there is an opportunity to make a difference:

  1. Raising awareness of the extraordinary impact of the early years
  2. Building a mentally healthier and more nurturing society
  3. Creating communities of support
  4. Strengthening the early years workforce
  5. Putting the data to work for early years
  6. Supporting long-term and inter-generational change

In the foreword to the report, the Duchess writes, ‘Our first five years lay important foundations for our future selves. This period is when we first learn to manage our emotions and impulses, to care and to empathise, and thus ultimately to establish healthy relationships with ourselves and others. It is a time when our experience of the world around us, and the way that moulds our development, can have a lifelong impact on our future mental and physical wellbeing. Indeed, what shapes our childhood shapes the adults and the parents we become.’

The Duchess also emphasises the importance of the social and emotional needs of children.

‘Nurtured children are the consequence of nurturing adults. So to invest in children means also investing in the people around them — the parents, carers, grandparents, early years workforce and more.’

Alongside the launch of the centre and the publication of the report, the Duchess has launched a new website, which will publish the centre’s latest research and initiatives, and to help to raise awareness of the importance of early childhood, laying out the scientific, economic and social opportunity for change.

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