Research on public perceptions of early childhood finds less than a fifth of people recognise its unique importance

Kathy Oxtoby
Thursday, June 16, 2022

Nine in ten people agree the early years are important in shaping a person’s future life, but less than a fifth recognise the unique importance of the 0-5 period, according to new research by the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood.

Research commissioned by the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood has found that just 17 per cent of the general public recognise the unique importance of the 0 – 5 period of a child's life relative to other age brackets.

The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood has today unveiled the findings of new research into early childhood development, as The Duchess of Cambridge and the Centre host a roundtable with the early years sector, Ministers and senior civil servants to discuss the results and the broader importance of early childhood development to society.  

The research was conducted by Ipsos UK on behalf of The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood. Ipsos interviewed 4,682 adults aged 16+ across the UK through their online Ipsos i-Say panel from the 21 April - 5 May 2022. 

Public perceptions of early childhood

The research published today looks at public perceptions of early childhood, focusing on three key areas: the prioritisation of the early years, the link between the first five years of life and lifelong outcomes for mental health and wellbeing and the support parents seek when raising young children.  

Key findings include:

A societal issue: There is near unanimous agreement (91 per cent) that the early years are important in shaping a person’s future life, but only 17 per cent recognise the unique importance of the 0 – 5 period relative to other age brackets. That being said seven in ten (70 per cent) believe it should be more of a priority for society as a whole.

Mental health and wellbeing: Over half (55 per cent) of the public recognise a person’s future mental health and wellbeing is the most likely part of adult life to be affected by their development in the early years, followed by their ability to make and maintain relationships (51 per cent) and their future happiness (40 per cent). 

Communities of support: Informal sources of support are key support mechanisms for parents, with more than a half of parents of children 0-5 (56 per cent) citing family or friends and as key sources of information on emotional and social development

Information and advice: Parents are more likely to seek out information and advice on key aspects of their child’s physical wellbeing (for example 35 per cent on nutrition, 34 per cent vaccinations, 33 per cent on health) than they are on their social (21 per cent) and emotional development (23 per cent).  

Later today, The Duchess and The Centre for Early Childhood will host a roundtable at the Royal Institution attended by representatives from the early years sector; the Secretary of State for Health, Sajid Javid, the Minister for Families, Will Quince, and officials from the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education. Together, they will discuss the findings of the research published today (16 June 2022), and the huge opportunity there is to shape the future of society by focusing on the importance of early childhood to lifelong outcomes.  

Raising the importance of early childhood development

Speaking about the research, The Duchess of Cambridge said: ‘Our experiences in early childhood fundamentally impact our whole life and set the foundation for how we go on to thrive as individuals, with one another, as a community and as a society. 

‘The findings published today present us with a huge opportunity and demonstrate there is real appetite from the public to bring this issue up all of our agendas.  There is more we can all do – every member of society can play a key role, whether that is directly with a child or by investing in the adults around them – the parents, the carers, the early years workforce and more.

‘If we come together to raise the importance of early childhood development, we’ll soon see that healthy, happy individuals make for a healthier, happier world. Which is why every second we spend with a child, is an investment in our collective future.’

Unique importance of the first five years of a child’s life

Kelly Beaver, chief executive of Ipsos UK and Ireland, said: ‘Although the majority of us agree that the experiences people have in childhood can have a significant impact on their future, a minority of Briton’s recognise the unique importance of the first five years of a child’s life.  

‘These formative years are crucial in the emotional, social and physical development of every child and this critical new research, for The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, provides the opportunity for society to ignite a discussion about how parents and children can be better supported during this period.’

‘We hope that these findings give ministers real pause for thought’

Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said: ‘It's disappointing, but sadly not at all surprising, that less than a fifth of the general public are aware of the unique importance of the first five years of a child's life.

‘Despite a wealth of research showing how critical the early years are to children's long-term development, all too often discussions about this critical stage of life are focused on the provision of childcare and the need for children to be “looked after” while their parents work, rather than the provision of quality early education that effectively supports early learning.

‘Given the profile of the Royal Foundation and the ongoing work of the Duchess of Cambridge on this important issue, we warmly welcome her call for greater investment in the adults who support children in their earliest years, including the early years workforce.

‘At a time when government policy threatens to undermine and devalue the work of our vital sector, we hope that these findings give ministers real pause for thought.’

Public support for investing in children’s early years

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said: ‘This research shows that there is a lot of public support for investing in children’s early years as people understand more about how it shapes children’s futures. However, there is clearly more to do as not enough people recognise just how crucial a child’s first five years are for their learning and development.

‘We know that access to high quality early education and care stays with children through primary school and into their secondary education; it is vital in closing the attainment gap for disadvantaged children and shapes who they will become.

‘During the pandemic we have seen children’s personal, social and emotional development suffer – especially among Covid-born babies. This is an area where children need more support right now, both at home and in formal early years settings.

‘As well as providing great learning opportunities for children, early years settings like nurseries and preschools can be great sources of support to parents and carers both in providing direct advice around children’s development and also providing a community hub.

‘Ministers need to support the early years sector as underfunding and rising costs are seeing nurseries close across the country. We need more investment in this crucial stage for our children and it is important to see that there is so much public support for this.’

The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood was launched by Duchess of Cambridge in June 2021. It focuses on promoting and commissioning high-quality research to increase knowledge and share best practice and working with people from across the private, public and voluntary sectors to collaborate on new solutions. It also develops creative campaigns to raise awareness and inspire action.

 

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