HRH The Duchess of Cambridge unveils biggest ever UK study on early years

27th November 2020  |  By: Tim Linehan


Our Patron The Duchess of Cambridge has 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 Royal Foundation commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct this landmark research, revealing what the UK thinks about the early years. It also explores how COVID-19 has impacted the perceptions and experiences of parents and carers of the under-fives.

Anna Freud Centre Chief Executive, Professor Peter Fonagy and Professor Eamon McCrory, our Director of Postgraduate Studies, were both members of The Royal Foundation steering group for the study.

The publication of this research follows nine years of work by The Duchess of Cambridge in which she has looked at how difficult experiences in early childhood are often the root cause of key social challenges such as poor mental health, family breakdown, addiction and homelessness – with the cost of late intervention estimated to be around £17 billion per year in England and Wales.

Throughout this time, The Duchess has listened extensively to the early years sector, convening a steering group of experts in 2018 to look at how collaborative work could bring about positive change. In January, Her Royal Highness asked the general public for their views – sparking a national conversation on the early years through the ‘5 Big Questions on the Under Fives’ survey, which attracted over half  a million responses, making it the biggest ever survey of its kind.

The research published today includes the findings of the 5 Big Questions as well as further qualitative and ethnographic research, a nationally representative survey conducted before the pandemic, and a survey on the impact of COVID-19 on families. Taken together, these studies have generated #5BigInsights:

  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.

  1. 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-19 pandemic to have a negative impact on their long-term mental wellbeing.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC, SUPPORT FROM LOCAL COMMUNITIES HAS SUBSTANTIALY 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.

Professor Peter Fonagy said: “HRH The Duchess of Cambridge has been a passionate advocate for children, particularly in their early years. This new report is an urgent reminder that we need to make sure that parents and carers have the support they need, so that all children can thrive. It is a very welcome contribution at this time.

There is nothing more important we can do for the youngest members of our society than to give them a fair and equal start in life. How we support them during this period will have an impact on their happiness, their health and their chances of realising their potential. No parent can achieve this alone, instead they need networks of friends and family, as well as lasting support from health and education. That way, we create a nurturing community around each and every child”.

You can read the executive summary here and the full report here.

An article including comment from Peter Fonagy appears in today’s Express.

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