The Duchess of Cambridge has launched her own Centre for Early Childhood, to raise awareness of the importance of early years and help “transform lives”.
A royal aide said Catherine felt early childhood was the “social equivalent to climate change” but it was not discussed “with the same seriousness”.
Kensington Palace described the centre as “a landmark step” in her work.
The duchess said she wanted to “create a happier, more mentally healthy, more nurturing society”.
An aide said the development would shape her future focus as a senior royal.
“The duchess has made the observation that the more you learn about the science of early childhood, whether it’s brain development, social science, what it means for our adult mental health, the more you realise that this is the social equivalent to climate change,” they said.
“But it is not discussed with the same seriousness or strategic intent that that issue is.”
In a video to mark the launch of the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, Catherine, wearing a necklace engraved with her children’s initials, said: “Working closely with others, the centre hopes to raise awareness of why the first five years of life are just so important for our future life outcomes, and what we can do as a society to embrace this golden opportunity to create a happier, more mentally healthy, more nurturing society.
“By working together, my hope is that we can change the way we think about early childhood, and transform lives for generations to come.”
The centre will focus on research, working with people across the private, public and voluntary sectors on new solutions and campaigning to raise awareness.
Early childhood has been a focus of the duchess’s decade as a member of the Royal Family, as she has looked at issues including family breakdown, mental health and the school environment.
Last week, she joined US First Lady Jill Biden at a school in Cornwall to discuss early years development.
Lord Hague, chairman of the Royal Foundation set up by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, said the centre’s launch was a “pivotal moment” in Catherine’s work on the issue.
The centre’s inaugural report, Big Change Starts Small, which has been written in collaboration with the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and the London School of Economics, revealed that the cost of a lack of action in early childhood – from children in care to mental health issues – is £16.1 bn each year in England alone.
Research by YouGov, commissioned by the Foundation and published on Friday – the final day of loneliness week – shows parents of young children have continued to feel lonelier as the pandemic has progressed.
Some 9% always or often felt lonely in October 2020, compared with 16% in May 2021.
In November, the duchess published research on the role of early years in shaping adulthood, which found that only one in four people recognised the importance of the first five years of a child’s life.
More than half a million people took part in the “five big questions on the under-fives” Ipsos Mori poll – the biggest public response to a survey of its kind.