In June 2021 the Duchess of Cambridge launched the Royal Foundation for Early Childhood. Based on research and presumably her own experience of wrangling toddlers through a pandemic, Kate has brought to our attention again what we’ve known for a while. Support for the first years of childhood are fundamental in establishing healthy habits, and relationships. Early years practitioners have always cited the first 1000 days as being the most crucial to a child’s life – the time when our little brains grow at an amazing rate and our experiences over these years have a huge impact on the rest of our lives.
So whilst I echo Kate’s call for more funding and research to be directed to Early Childhood studies and programmes, I simply cannot agree with her that it is the “social equivalent to climate change”.
Yes, there may be a huge economic impact of not funding early intervention, Kate quotes LSE’s analysis of lost opportunity at an estimated £16 billion a year in England alone (the cost of services that might have been avoided through action in early childhood). But the fundamental difference is that whilst addressing Early Childhood is vitally important for every little person and family struggling the juggle through normal life (and now with the added challenges of a pandemic), society can still just about get away with improving things incrementally.
With climate change there’s a deadline, with dates and targets that we must reach. If we miss these targets the consequences will make the future look incredibly scary to every little person who is too young to be a decision-maker now, but old enough to soon understand the irreversible damage that has been done to our planet. With climate change, the threat is simply existential, perhaps not immediately for us in the UK on our green and pleasant isle, but there are plenty of families around the world that are already struggling with poor agricultural yields, unpredictable weather and not enough solutions.
Covid has given citizen’s and governments an opportunity to pause for thought and re-calibrate our efforts to solving our most critical problems. So far, too little has been delivered – the IEA’s Sustainability Recovery Tracker released this week is a frustrating read. Wills is on the case with his Earthshot Prize, but I can’t help looking at the prize council and wondering whether scientists rather than Shakira would make better decisions about rewarding the tech solutions that might come to the aid of our planet. But that’s another story for another time.
So whilst I agree that the work of Kate’s new Foundation will be incredibly important in restoring a broken, unequal society that is still reeling from the economic and social impact of COVID-19, we must pursue our efforts in fighting climate change with ten times the gusto.
By supporting early childhood, we have a wonderfully optimistic opportunity to get little lives off to a great start, but let’s hold our leaders to account to make sure that they deliver on climate commitments so that little people have a wonderfully optimistic future to look forward to.