Heads Together | The Duchess of Cambridge’s Speech on Early Intervention for Children & Families

As I look round the room I see so many friendly faces, friends who’ve shared with me their knowledge and who’ve answered my questions patiently, whilst I’ve interrogated them in my endeavour to learn about this complex range of issues. Academic colleagues who’ve shown me their ground-breaking research into the cause of perinatal and postnatal depression and how they are addressing these in the clinic; Those who I visited over the years who provide crucial links within the community and who’s 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 their schools. I could name so many of you, but I’m utterly grateful, to you all for giving you time and your wisdom so freely. We all know just 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 crucial 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’ve heard the more I am convinced that the answer has to be early, and that 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 at 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 of how vulnerable they might be and critically know where they can find help for themselves as well for their babies and toddlers Potentially we could start looking 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 foundation not only for healthy outcomes, during their teenage years, but also 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 I think is here with us today, wrote a report on government on the need for early intervention. I hope Graham, you don’t mind me quoting from your report in which you refer to the cycle of deprivation and dysfunction from generation to generation. There you said that “If we intervene earlier 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. These 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 hear today because we all believe that every child deserves the best possible start in life I have therefore, entrusted The Royal Foundation with thanks to the leadership of Aida, 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 we will build strong foundations that 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. Thank you.

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