5 Big Insights on early childhood: my thoughts

A child walking in a meadow.

Today marks the publication of 5 Big Insights – the largest ever study on the early years of childhood.

Earlier this year, I shared my thoughts on its predecessor, 5 Big Questions. Backed by The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, it encouraged parents and carers to think about the early years of children’s lives.

Since then, over half a million people answered the questions, making it the biggest ever response to a public survey.

The result of all of this is the 5 Big Insights. There are some fascinating discoveries among them – here they are, along with my thoughts.

A graphic from 5 Big Insights.

People overwhelmingly believe that a child’s future is not pre-determined at birth. However, most people don’t understand the specific importance of the early years.

I expected most parents would answer that nurture is essential and 98% agreed. I’m saddened, though, that only one in four recognises how vital the first five years are.

Clearly, this needs addressing and the Government has much to answer for. Since I became a parent in 2010, funding for Sure Start Centres has been cut by two thirds and over 500 have closed.

Similarly, around 800 libraries have been forced to shut, denying young families community hubs and sessions like rhyme time as well as access to books.

My feeling is that people don’t recognise the importance of the early years because basic necessities like these are no longer readily available.

The reality of life makes it hard for parents to prioritise their wellbeing.

While 90% see parental mental health as critical to a child’s development, only 10% take time to look after their own wellbeing. Meanwhile, 37% think the Coronavirus pandemic will have a negative long-term effect.

I sympathise with all of this. As I said back in January, mental health has a huge impact on everything we do. But it is often difficult to make time for ourselves.

With regards the pandemic, I feel so sad for the kids in particular, plus I’ve just lost my job thanks to Covid-related cuts. So I readily admit that I’m not in the best place right now.

Naturally, my priority is my family. We have three children at different key stages of development and try to spend as much quality time as possible with each of them individually as well as a collective.

With job seeking, life admin and anxieties about Covid in the equation, someone is going to be left out and that’s us parents.

Feeling judged by others can make a bad situation worse.

Some 70% feel judged by others with around half saying this negatively impacts mental health. Again, I can relate to this. I think we all feed judged at times and the thought processes this inspires can cause anxiety.

For example, I sometimes wonder if people think I’m a second-class parent because of society’s perception of dads in general. In reality, they’re probably not giving me a second thought, but little things like this can get in your head.

Things have improved since I first became a dad – I haven’t been asked if it’s “Mum’s day off” in ages! But there’s still a lot of progress to be made.

A graphic from 5 Big Insights, focussing on parental loneliness.

People have been separated from family and friends during the pandemic and at the same time parental loneliness has dramatically increased. Disturbingly, people are also less willing to seek help for how they are feeling.

Parental loneliness has increased from 38% to 63%, with those in deprived areas hit hardest. To make matters even worse, there has been an increase in those uncomfortable with seeking help.

We’ve only seen my parents a handful of times this year – ordinarily, we see them most weeks. We’ve only seen my sister and her family once – just before the first lockdown. And we haven’t seen my wife’s side of the family at all.

With three young children, we didn’t have much of a social life anyway but it’s sad to think that it’s been getting on for a year since I saw most of my friends.

It’s been a bad year for everyone and this has been compounded by a sense of isolation. As someone who suffers mild depression myself, I can understand those unwilling to seek help. When you’re in that mindset, it’s a vicious cycle.

During the COVID pandemic, support from local communities has substantially increased for many – but not for all.

According to the stats, 40% feel that community support has grown, but those in more deprived areas are less likely to have experienced it.

I have to admit that, aside from early on in the pandemic when we all clapped for key workers every Thursday, I haven’t really noticed much difference in my community.

As I alluded to earlier, we had already lost a Sure Start Centre and library in my town. So there weren’t really any community hubs for young families before the pandemic.

It’s a largely friendly place, however, and plenty of people say hello on the school run as they always have. I’m sure people have been helping vulnerable members of society around here too.

What do you think about the findings of the 5 Big Insights?

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