Kate warns of impact on children of parents' lockdown loneliness

Parental loneliness has increased dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic, according to research, with families living in the most deprived communities suffering most.

More than half a million people took part in the Royal Foundation’s five big questions on the under-fives poll, which was carried out by Ipsos Mori and produced the largest ever response from the public to a survey of its kind. The poll was at the heart of a keynote speech by the Duchess of Cambridge on Friday at an online Royal Foundation forum, which was hailed as a passionate and personal address.

Kate said: “The science shows that the early years are more pivotal for future health and happiness than any other period in our lifetime. As many as 40% of our children will arrive at school with below the expected levels of development, and the social cost of late intervention has been estimated to be over £17bn a year.

“The early years are therefore not simply just about how we raise our children. They are, in fact, about how we raise the next generation of adults. They are about the society we will become.”

She said the report’s findings raised a number of questions, from how to address parental loneliness to how to raise awareness about the importance of early years, after the study found only a minority of people understood its relevance.

She added: “We must do all we can to tackle these issues and to elevate the importance of the early years, so that together we can build a more nurturing society. Because I believe the early years should be on par with the other great social challenges and opportunities of our time.”

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The speech was hailed as a milestone for the duchess. Kensington Palace said it would shape her future focus on early years development, with plans next year for Kate to help elevate the importance of early childhood.

The study showed the Covid-19 pandemic had dramatically increased parental loneliness, with 38% experiencing loneliness before the crisis, and 63% after the first lockdown, a jump of 25 points.

It also highlighted how experiences during lockdown differed for the most deprived communities. Loneliness for parents was more common in deprived locations, with 13% feeling lonely often or always – nearly three times more than the 5% in the least deprived areas.

The report found that although 98% of those who responded believed that nurture was essential to lifelong outcomes, just 24% thought pregnancy to age five was the most pivotal period for health and happiness in adulthood.

Neil Leitch, the chief executive of the charity Early Years Alliance, described it as “concerning, though unfortunately not surprising” that so few people were aware that pregnancy to age five was such an important time. “All too often, education and learning is seen as something that begins at the school gates,” he said.

“At a time when many parents of young children have been cut off from their normal sources of help and can only seek limited support from family and friends, it is vital that the government recognises the value of the early years and ensures that the vital services that provide such important support to parents and families across the country are able to continue to do so.”

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The report concluded that society as a whole needed to be more supportive of parents and families in the early years, with more done to promote its importance, and better support networks to improve parental mental health.


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