Blog: Answering the ‘5 Big Questions’

Date 23.06.2021

The Duchess of Cambridge recently launched the Centre for Early Childhood to raise awareness of the importance of early years and help transform lives by creating a happier, more mentally healthy society.

Dr Eunice Lumsden, Associate Professor, is also the University of Northampton’s Subject Lead for Childhood, Youth and Families. Here, she gives her views on why the Centre is a great step forward for the profession.


Last year, the Duchess of Cambridge launched research – Big 5 Questions – into what the public think and know about early years, the results of which were, for those who work in the profession, were at the same time fascinating, and also familiar.

This is not to downplay the impact of the research, because it has given a massive boost to public knowledge of early years…and that boost is much needed.

Just to pick one of the findings, 69% of parents don’t know how our development from the point of conception to the age of five years can impact on the rest of our lives.

Think about that statistic for a second or two.

That’s nearly three out of every four parents in England who don’t know that abuse, neglect, or poverty or other disruptive events – for instance, a global pandemic – during those crucial first years for their children could lead in later life to poorer life chances and health outcomes (such as lower achievement in school, or obesity and diabetes).

For those of us like myself who have worked in the sector for decades and acted as advocates for very young children, this figure is enlightening because clearly more work needs to be done to make the 1,001 days of our lives near the top of everyone’s agenda, whether parent or policy maker.

For me, the Duchess of Cambridge is right on the money in setting up the Centre for Early Childhood and what she says about the early years. Of course, she is a mother herself – as am I – but aside from being a parent, the 5 Big Questions findings are relevant to all everyone on this planet. After all, everyone has a childhood irrespective of whether they go on to become parents.

She mentioned that the early years on a child’s development are the social equivalent of climate change. This is not hyperbole, but truth! I’ve spent the last 20 years raising the importance of these very earliest days and months. If you don’t invest in your youngest children, they don’t have the foundation for that happier, healthier life. The climate change analogy is absolutely spot on because it hits home about how serious our early years are.

At University of Northampton, we have a number of initiatives in place or soon to come along this very line. Roots of Empathy – which raises levels of empathy in children, resulting in more respectful and caring relationships and reduced levels of bullying and aggression by having babies as their ‘teachers’ – has been successfully brought into local primary schools. This has been happening for several years and is having an enormous, beneficial impact on children in Northampton.

The University is currently working with Roots of Empathy to embed their new Seeds of Empathy programme in nurseries in Northamptonshire. So, this will see us working with even younger children to help their social and emotional development.

For now, we at the University look forward to when the 5 Big Questions are fully answered as policy and practice that will set all of us up for the better, healthier lives the Duchess of Cambridge hopes for.