The Duchess of Cambridge visited University College London’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies to meet with leading early years researchers and learn more about their new study, ‘The Children of the 2020s.’ This new, nationally representative birth cohort study has been launched in England and will track the holistic development of children from the age of nine months to five years.

The study’s approach has particular resonance with The Duchess and her work on early childhood, as it will look at a wide range of factors that affect children’s development and education in the early years, including the home environment, the community, early years services and the broader social and economic circumstances of the family.

During the visit, The Duchess viewed archive material of historic research dating back to the 1940s into early childhood. She was also shown a ‘Birth Questionnaire’ given to new mothers in 1958, which included questions about pregnant women’s smoking habits. While not a standard question at the time, the responses allowed researchers to track the impact that smoking during pregnancy had on a baby’s birth weight, and also how it continued to affect different aspects of a child’s life into adulthood. This led to a public health campaign to stop women smoking whilst pregnant, something which is now commonplace.

Over the last ten years, Her Royal Highness has spent time looking into how challenges in later life such as addiction, family breakdown, poor mental health, suicide and homelessness can have their roots in the earliest years of someone’s life. The visit to UCL was the first of a number of engagements that The Duchess conducts in relation to the study, and comes after Her Royal Highness launched The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood to drive awareness of and action on the extraordinary impact of the early years.

Through her work with The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, Her Royal Highness is aiming to highlight how what we experience in early childhood shapes the developing brain, which is why positive relationships, environments and experiences during this period are so crucial.

“Our early childhoods shape our adult lives and knowing more about what impacts this critical time is fundamental to understanding what we as a society can do to improve our future health and happiness. The landmark ‘Children of the 2020s’ study will illustrate the importance of the first five years and provide insights into the most critical aspects of early childhood, as well as the factors which support or hinder positive lifelong outcomes.”

– The Duchess of Cambridge