We are here today because we all believe that every child deserves the best possible start in life.The Duchess of Cambridge
As I look around the room, I see friends from many different sectors: friends who have shared with me their knowledge, and who have answered my questions patiently whilst I’ve interrogated them in my endeavour to learn about this complex range of issues.
- Academic colleagues who have shown me their ground-breaking research into the causes of perinatal and post-natal depression, and how they are addressing these in the clinic;
- Those who I have visited over the years who provide crucial links within the community, and whose services help families with essential parenting support and guidance;
- and other wonderful organisations which have done so much to improve support for the emotional wellbeing of children in schools.
I could name so many of you, but I'm utterly grateful to you all for giving your time and wisdom so freely.
We all know how important childhood is; and how the early years shape us for life. We also know how negative the downstream impact can be, if problems emerging at the youngest age are overlooked, or ignored. It is therefore vital that we nurture children through this critical, early period.
But as we've heard, at what stage in a child’s development could we, or should we, intervene, to break the inter-generational cycle of disadvantage?
The more I have heard, the more I am convinced that the answer has to be: 'early' and ' 'the earlier, the better'.
In fact, it would seem that we cannot intervene early enough.
We do need mental health support in primary schools before the biological changes and academic pressures of adolescence kick in.
We also need a focus on parenting and family support, so that parents feel able to get their children ‘school ready’, and are confident that they themselves can cope with the mental and emotional needs of their own children.
We need to highlight how important it is to support mothers too, potentially before they even give birth. They need to be aware how vulnerable they might be and, critically, know where they can find help for themselves, as well as for their babies and toddlers.
But potentially we could start to look even earlier, by teaching parenting and relationship skills to teenagers, to get the next generation of parents child-ready, well before they have to put these skills into practice.
After listening to those working in this complex area, my own view is that children’s experiences in their early years are fundamental. They lay the foundations not only for healthy outcomes during the teenage years, but also for adulthood.
Addressing the issues only when they take root, later in life, results in huge detriment; detriment to the healthcare, education and social support systems in our country; but, perhaps more importantly, detriment to future generations over the long term.
In 2011, Graham Allen, who is with is here today, wrote a report for Government on the need for early intervention.
I hope, Graham, you don’t mind me quoting from your report, in which you referred to the cycle of deprivation and dysfunction, from generation to generation.
There, you said that, “If we intervene early enough, we can give children a vital social and emotional foundation, which will help to keep them happy, healthy and achieving throughout their lives and, above all, equip them to raise children of their own.”
I could not agree more.
Because these are ‘lifetime’ issues, they require a very long term perspective. But the issues are also complex and multi-sided, so they need integrated, collective approaches to create real impact. This is what I am so keen to explore.
We are here today because we all believe that every child deserves the best possible start in life.
I have therefore entrusted The Royal Foundation, under the leadership of Aida Cable, to gather a group of experts to develop the thinking in this critical area: experts and partners to build upon existing work, and to look at developing sustainable solutions which will help deliver our shared ambitions.
Providing children in their earliest years with social and emotional security builds strong foundations which last a lifetime. I really do feel so passionately about the importance of early intervention, and that by working on new approaches together, we can make a real difference for generations to come.