State of the Nation: Understanding Public Attitudes to the Early Years

Ipsos MORI, The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

This report sets out the findings from the most comprehensive study of attitudes towards bringing up children from conception to 5 years ever undertaken in the United Kingdom. Thousands of parents and non-parents have participated to help shed light on how we approach the early years of life for children in the UK.

This report seeks to draw together the evidence collected across all the research strands to provide an overview of the public’s and parents’ perceptions of the early years in the UK today. To achieve this, the data collected via each research methodology was independently analysed using a thematic approach. Identified themes were then compared and contrasted across the methodologies to create a rich picture of current perceptions of the early years.

This report is structured around the key themes that emerged from the analysis. In some cases, these themes relate to topics that the research team purposefully set out to explore; for example the sources of support that parents value. However, other themes, such as mental health, emerged organically from our conversations with parents to an extent that justifies discussion in the report. The report is therefore divided into the following chapters:

  • Chapter 2: The importance of the early years: This chapter explores parents’ and non-parents’ perceptions of the importance of the early years, their understanding of brain development, and the role of parents in supporting children’s development.
  • Chapter 3: The reality of being a parent: This chapter explores parents’ and nonparents’ perceptions of what it is like to be a parent today, including both positive experiences as well as challenges and obstacles. It examines the extent to which parents recognise the direct and indirect impact that their own mental health has on their children’s development. It also explores where parents would go to seek support for their mental health, and the potential impact of social isolation on parents.
  • Chapter 4: Parents’ support networks: This chapter explores the types of support accessed by parents and their perceptions of the trustworthiness of different sources of support. It considers the implications of this for child development in the early years.
  • Chapter 5: The role of wider society: This chapter explores how parents perceive their roles and responsibilities in supporting children to develop relative to those of wider society.
  • Chapter 6: Conclusions: This chapter draws together the implications of the research findings.