Duchess of Cambridge visits CLS to learn about Children of the 2020s study

5 October 2021

Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge today visited CLS to learn about the new Children of the 2020s study, and the invaluable contribution the centre’s existing birth cohort studies have made to our understanding of early child development

She was welcomed by Professor Pasco Fearon, UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences, who is director of the new study, and by CLS director, Professor Alissa Goodman. They introduced The Duchess to the new nationally representative study, which is funded by the Department for Education, and being led by UCL in partnership with Ipsos MORI. The research team are seeking to recruit over 8,000 families from across England next year to track the development of children from the age of nine months to five years.

Speaking ahead of the visit, The Duchess of Cambridge said: “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.

“I am committed to supporting greater in-depth research in this vital area and I’m delighted to be meeting all those behind the study at this early stage.”

Professor Pasco Fearon said: “We are extremely excited to welcome HRH The Duchess of Cambridge to UCL to talk and hear more about our Children of the 2020s study today and as it develops over the coming years.

“The study will collect vital information on how children develop during the crucial early years of life. We will be studying their family circumstances and experiences as they grow up, as well as the role of formal and informal childcare and preschool education in their learning and development.

“We share with Her Royal Highness a commitment to improving children’s development and life chances through high quality research and good early years policy and we believe the Children of the 2020s Study will play a really important part of that for this next generation of children.”

The Children of the 2020s study joins the UK’s unique collection of birth cohort studies, all of which are based at UCL. During the visit, The Duchess viewed archive material of historic research and survey materials including a ‘Birth Questionnaire’ given to new mothers in 1958, which included questions about pregnant women’s smoking habits. 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 negatively affect different aspects of a child’s life into adulthood. This led to a public health campaign in the 1970s to discourage women from smoking while pregnant, helping to improve the health of future generations.

The study has been funded for five years to enable researchers to answer important scientific and policy questions regarding the determinants of early school success. The research team also hopes to continue following study participants for many years to come through linked administrative data, and subject to funding, through future survey sweeps, similar to the other cohort studies based at the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies, which follow the lives of four generations born in 1958, 1970, 1989-90 and 2000-02. These earlier studies are funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Co-investigator of the study, Professor Alissa Goodman said: “We’re delighted HRH, The Duchess of Cambridge, will be able to follow the Children of the 2020s study from its infancy. It is the latest in a proud tradition of cohort studies and will be critical in showing us how the lives of babies being born now will be different to the generations that came before them.

“Some of the most important sources of evidence we have on the early years are the UK’s unique collection of birth cohort studies. One of the most important things we’ve found is how the influence of our early experiences – even in utero – continue to reveal themselves through the whole of our lives.”

The study will include babies born in September, October, and November 2021 and the research team, made up of academics from UCL, Ipsos MORI, the University of Oxford, Birkbeck, University of London and the Anna Freud Centre, will seek to recruit families in mid 2022 to take part in the study.

Duchess of Cambridge’s early years interest and UCL’s support

In June this year The Duchess of Cambridge formally launched The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, which will drive both awareness and action on the positive impact the early years has on individuals and communities.

The announcement followed 10 years of work by The Duchess, in which she has looked at how difficult experiences in early childhood are often the root cause of key social challenges such as poor mental health, family breakdown, addiction and homelessness.

In launching the new centre, The Duchess paid tribute to Professors Peter Fonagy OBE and Eamon McCrory (both UCL Psychology & Language Sciences), who have been working with the Duchess on the importance of early childhood for a number of years and are both members of The Royal Foundation’s Early Years Steering Group.

Also in June, Professor McCrory spoke with The Duchess and the First Lady of the United States, Dr Jill Biden at a roundtable about early years education at the G7 summit in Cornwall.

In November 2018 The Royal Foundation published ‘State of the nation: Understanding public attitudes to early years’, which involved researchers at UCL and the Anna Freud Centre. This report included the ‘5 Big Questions on the Under Fives’ survey, which attracted over half a million responses, making it the biggest ever UK study on the early years.

Media coverage

BBC News – Kate highlights pressures of being born in a pandemic

The Times – Duchess of Cambridge backs UCL campaign tracking children’s early development

Daily Mail – Kate does her family tree! Duchess of Cambridge reveals she’s researching how her ancestors’ social status affected their lives as she visits UCL for launch of early years study in recycled £16 Zara dress

Telegraph – Duchess of Cambridge’s family tree shows rise to royalty began down the mines

The Sun – CHECK HER OUT Kate Middleton proves she’s top of the class in £16 Zara dress on visit to University College London

Daily Express –  ‘Thrifty’ Kate Middleton re-wears £16 Zara dress on visit to University College London

Daily Mirror – Kate Middleton wears £16 Zara dress on visit to university to discuss early years study

Independent – Kate Middleton hails ‘landmark’ study into early years development on children

Daily Star – Kate Middleton delights boffins on university trip with sarcy motherhood quip

Hello magazine – Kate Middleton makes important commitment during surprise outing

Vogue – The Duchess Of Cambridge Does Back-To-Work Dressing In Her Wardrobe Staple

Harper’s Bazaar – Duchess Kate Visited a London University to Promote Early Childhood Research

People – Kate Middleton Is Recruiting Babies Born in the 2020s — Here’s Why

Town and Country – Kate Middleton Steps Out in a Black and White Dress for a Cause Close to Her Heart

Grazia – As Kate Middleton Flies The Flag For Zara Dresses, These Are Our Favourite Styles For Autumn

Further information

For more information, contact Henry Killworth, UCL Media Relations on Tel: 07881 833274 or E: h.killworth@ucl.ac.uk

Find out more about the Children of the 2020s study on the CLS website.

Images – Credit: Pete Maclaine/Parsons Media

This news item was amended in January 2022 to update the month of birth of the study participants.


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