A noble endeavour, considered by Catherine, the Princess of Wales to be her ‘life’s work’, you cannot fault the ambition of Early Childhood Initiative — now in its newest iteration — the Shaping Us campaign. It looks to help tackle social problems such as mental health, addiction and homelessness by the roots that are our early formative 0-5 childhood years, through three key areas — research, collaboration and raising awareness.
We need now more than ever this emphasis on children’s support measures, especially as the cost of living crisis deepens, and the social support system weakens, at this very level. Many early childcare providers and children’s centres have shut down recently as a result of the cost of living crisis due to chronic underfunding, and children across the country are going to bed cold and hungry. This comes off the heels of the pandemic, during the heat of which, in 2019, the mental health crisis spiralled out of control, leaving children as the most affected and at risk of lifelong mental illness. The gravity of this cannot be understated.
Thus, just as we currently need policies for more free school meals, increased benefits and better emergency services, as many children’s charities have suggested recently, we also need look closer to home, in order to do our best in these trying times, in our capacity as parents and community members. 36% of adults know ‘little to nothing’ about the basic science of the early years of childhood development, as recent data conducted under the Shaping Us campaign has shown. Hence, the campaign seeks to translate the science into actionable insights for parents and communities alike, and inform attitudes at a deeper level, across society more widely.
Continuing in the spirit of the Shaping Us campaign, this article gives you a run-down of the scheme’s most recent contributions thus far, in its three key areas, in order to further raise awareness of the issue.
The rationale behind the new Early Childhood Initiative Shaping Us is simple — ‘fundamentally healthy, happy children shape a healthy, happy future’. This is not just rhetoric, but based on over a decade’s worth of close observation by Catherine, and of course overwhelming scientific evidence, which were backed up by a huge study conducted by Ispsos MORI, and commissioned in 2020 by The Prince and Princess of Wales’ Royal Foundation. Some of the most actionable insights that I can glean from this study, designed to ‘provoke discussion and debate’ and inspire change, are these:
- In spite of having to juggle priorities, parents should not neglect that during the critical first two years, ‘emotional and social development’ are very important, as the science shows, just like physical needs, i.e. feeding and sleeping.
- Raising awareness of how a parents’ mental state can adversely affect their children is imperative.
- Following on from the previous insight, we need to promote non-judgemental attitudes towards parents, as well as support. As the study points out, judgement can often ‘impact parents’ wellbeing and mental health’, and is counterproductive. Also, as we just saw, parents’ mental state can impact on their children.
Collaboration / Raising Awareness
As much as external factors play their role in shaping children’s lives, it is just as critical to instil a sense of the basic science of early childhood development in public consciousness, so that parents and communities can apply it, beyond strictly relying on intuition. Also, the preventative is just as, if not more important than interventions after a lot of damage is already done, whether it be emotionally or mentally later life. Hence, intersects with raising awareness of mental health issues, as The Princess of Wales visiting primary schools to discuss mental health has made it clear — another area of charitable interest for The Royal Foundation. The Princess of Wales has visited countless institutions to raise awareness on this subject, which would include The University of Leeds. Ultimately, however, it is up to teachers, carers, children’s social workers to take onboard this vital information — both scientific and a common-sense approach. This could potentially take the form of translating the science for parents via talks, and engaging them, again, without judgment, as parents of future generations.