Kate Middleton has always been passionate about helping children. From being a patron of the children’s mental health charity Place2be, to donating seven inches of her hair to a charity that makes wigs for child cancer patients to hosting a morale-boosting Easter Zoom chat with the children of front-line workers, she consistently shows up for kids.
In January, the Duchess of Cambridge asked the British public for their views on early childhood, to spark a national conversation and shape her future charity work and projects.
“I was humbled that more than half a million people responded to the 5 big questions survey, showing just how much people wanted to talk about this,” the duchess said in her keynote speech on Friday at The Royal Foundation’s online event, “What the U.K. thinks about the Early Years.”
Watch Kate’s full keynote speech. Story continues below video.
The findings focused not just on more general beliefs and experiences around the early years, but also on how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges for parents and caregivers of young children.
“The pandemic has reminded us just how much we value living in a world where people care for one another and the importance of feeling connected to the people around us. And it’s these connections, these relationships, that are founded in the earliest years of our lives,” said the Duchess of Cambridge.
She went on to stress that being a parent is not the only reason to care about children. “If we only expect people to take an interest in the early years when they have children [...] we are underestimating the huge role others can play in shaping our most formative years too.”
The duchess shared that meeting adults facing challenges and overcoming obstacles later in life, through her royal duties, has also helped to shape her vision. She highlighted the lifelong importance of early interventions for kids in vulnerable situations.
“I’ve seen that experiences of homelessness, addiction and of poor mental health are often grounded in a difficult childhood. But I’ve also seen how positive protective factors in the early years can play a critical role in shaping our futures too,” the duchess said, adding, “the science shows that the early years are more pivotal for our future health and happiness than any other period in our lifetime.”
Feedback from the “5 big questions” survey was combined with public research to produce what Kate defined as “the U.K.’s biggest ever study on the early years.”
The results were boiled down into “the 5 big insights.”
Below are the main findings, which the duchess said will shape her “ambitious plans,” to be announced next year:
“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.”
While 98 per cent of respondents “believe nurture is essential to lifelong outcomes,” according to the report, only one in four “recognize the specific importance of the first five years of a child’s life.”
“The reality of life makes it hard for parents to prioritize their wellbeing.”
Ninety per cent of people surveyed “see parental mental health and wellbeing as being critical to a child’s development,” yet only 10 per cent of parents took time for self care, when preparing for the arrival of their baby.
“Feeling judged by others can make a bad situation worse.”
Seven in ten parents said they sometimes felt judged, and one in two of those who felt judged said it had a negative impact on their mental health.
“People have been separated from family and friends during the pandemic and at the same time the parental loneliness has dramatically increased. Disturbingly, people are also less willing to seek help for how they’re feeling.”
Loneliness for parents rose sharply from 38 per cent to 63 per cent during COVID-19 restrictions. Eighteen per cent of parents surveyed said they struggled to ask for help before the pandemic, and that figure rose to 34 per cent during the pandemic.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, support from local communities has substantially increased for many ― but not for all.”
While 40 per cent of parents surveyed felt community support had grown, U.K. parents in equity-seeking communities reported only a 33 per cent increase in community support.
Watch: How Kate Middleton plans to shake things up within the Royal Family.