The Duchess of Cambridge has insisted she is not looking for a “quick win” with her early years work but wants to take a “holistic approach” to better prepare the next generation of parents.

She said she hoped that her new Centre for Early Childhood could help to make it “more common to speak about emotions and feelings” which would in turn enable adults to better understand how affection affects their own behaviour.

The Duchess, 39, met experts to discuss how to drive awareness of the importance of early childhood.

The one-hour round table discussion was convened to discuss the findings of her new research centre’s inaugural report, Big Change Starts Small.

The Duchess said that as a parent and during pregnancy, there were “many conversations” about physical milestones but little support or guidance beyond “what you can see” – such as the importance of brain development.

She said: “My hope today, through the report and the new centre, is to show that change really needs to happen and the time for action is now.

“I feel this is the social equivalent of climate change, where we have followed the science for many, many years and that is what we have to do with early childhood development if we want to build a happier, healthier world.”

The report, written in collaboration with The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and the London School of Economic (LSE), found that the failure to tackle early years problems costs an annual £16.13 billion in England alone. 

The centre, which was launched on Friday and will be based at Kensington Palace, marks the culmination of 10 years of work by the Duchess into the critical impact the first five years of life has on society.

Her research has shown that social challenges such as addiction, violence, family breakdown, homelessness and mental health are often rooted in the early years.

The Duchess was joined for the discussion at the LSE by leading academics and practitioners with whom she has worked for many years. Among them were representatives from the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, Mind, Place2Be, the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Future Men.

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Dr Guddi Singh, a paediatric registrar at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said the Royal Foundation’s work in the field had proved there was a “big disconnect” just as there had been with climate change.

“The gap between what science knows and what society knows is massive,” she said.

“Parenting hasn’t had the elevation that it needs in this country, and in fact in any Western country… It’s about tackling that as an issue.”

Dr Singh added: “In terms of language, I don’t think we talked about love enough in this country. I don’t think we talk about it openly and without any shame.”

The Duchess agreed, adding: “Speaking about love, in general, it’s making it common to speak about emotions and feelings.”

She said that a better understanding of how affection affected behaviour could help society become “more outward looking” and encourage more compassion.

The Duchess of Cambridge meets with a group of parents who helped her understand the importance of providing support for parents during the earliest years of children's lives

Credit: Tolha Akmen/Getty Images

Professor Peter Fonagy, CEO of the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, suggested that the Duchess’s new centre could create a curriculum for secondary schools, while Alison Morton, executive director of the Institute of Health Visiting, said it was about equipping parents to better support their child rather than “sending them off to an expert to be fixed”.

The Duchess was later reunited with parents she has met over the past decade who have helped to shape her understanding of the importance of the early years.

She chatted with them about their experiences at Kensington Palace.