The writer is the Princess of Wales
This year, I launched a major new campaign, Shaping Us, to increase understanding of the critical importance of early childhood and its impact in shaping the rest of our lives. We must now harness the interest and enthusiasm around this to drive real action.
Earlier this week, I created a Business Taskforce for Early Childhood to discuss how we can work together to change the way we all view and prioritise early childhood. This is not only for the benefit of society today, but for all of us in the years to come. The taskforce creates a bridge between the scientific community — whose evidence so unequivocally makes the case for prioritising early childhood — and the business community. Businesses should play a significant role in changing attitudes, both within their own organisations and across their wider network of suppliers, customers and communities.
The science shows that from pregnancy to age five, our brains develop faster than at any other age. The way we develop, through our experiences, relationships and surroundings at that very young age, lays the scaffolding as we grow into adulthood. And it is specifically our social and emotional development during that time — learning how we express and manage our emotions and respond to the needs of others — that underpins the attributes which are key to success in the workplace. Our resilience, flexibility, ability to manage stress and remain motivated when facing challenges, are all shaped by the foundations we build in early childhood.
However, not enough emphasis is placed on social and emotional development or on building environments which nurture these skills, during childhood and beyond. Parental wellbeing is the biggest single factor in determining a child’s wellbeing, and we know that becoming a parent places additional pressure on mental health. Nearly 75 per cent of people find parenting under-fives stressful.
We also know that parents make up a significant part of the UK workforce — 76 per cent of mothers and 92 per cent of fathers with children are in work. We must recognise the challenge for many of these parents, and other caregivers, in balancing a successful working life with a nurturing home life during their children’s formative years. Employers have an important role in making that possible.
Of course, there are many others within the workforce who play an important role in the lives of children — grandparents, friends, community volunteers. As the saying goes, “it takes a village”.
I believe that we need to do two things. The first is to prioritise creating working environments that provide the support people need to cultivate and maintain their own social and emotional wellbeing. The second is a more concentrated focus on the social and emotional development of our youngest children.
The environmental, social and governance framework — or ESG — is now readily recognised and supported by business. Considerable progress has been made within a relatively short few years on the environment and governance parts of that framework, but the “social” aspect is not discussed as overtly or measured and reported in the same way.
So, over the coming months, the taskforce will look at the opportunity to put the early years at the heart of delivering the “social” element. While great work is being done by individual businesses, by being more co-ordinated across business and commerce, our impact could be far reaching.
As the world becomes ever more complex, we have to invest in early childhood now, as a down payment for our collective future. If business and commerce embrace this significant issue — including how better early childhoods will affect their own organisations both now and in the long term — we can and will transform lives for generations to come.