Good morning, everyone. Thank you Christian, and thank you everyone for being here today.
People often ask me why I focus my time on early childhood. The answer is because I care deeply about making a positive difference, in helping the most vulnerable and supporting those who are most in need.
This is not just about the youngest children in our society, who are, by their very nature, vulnerable. It is also about the many young people and adults who are suffering.
We must do more than simply meet the short term needs of these individuals. We must also look at creating long term, preventative change. And that takes us right back to the beginning.
When I have asked many individuals, whose lives have reached crisis point; in prison rehabilitation programmes, addiction recovery centres, or those affected by homelessness; what would make the biggest difference in preventing similar pathways for future generations, they often talk about providing safety, belonging and love in early childhood.
It is human nature to strive for these things. We feel this innately and instinctively. But for too many of us, at too many times in our lives, these basic human needs go unanswered.
There is a disconnect. Somehow these deep-rooted needs aren’t always met by the societies we are creating, and the effects are evident all around us – with poor mental health, anxiety, depression, abuse, and addiction all too common.
It isn’t enough therefore to simply wish for a better world. We must acknowledge and address the root cause of some of today’s toughest social challenges and work together to find better answers.
Because ultimately, we are all part of a delicate, interconnected ecosystem and just as we need to restore, protect and invest in our planet, so we must restore, protect, and invest in our societies, communities, relationships, and ourselves.
“Prison was the best thing that happened to me”, was what one prisoner told me on a recent visit.
“I thought how I was living my life was normal, but it allowed me time to stop, not just being busy and keeping up with what I was expected to be doing, it allowed me time to be with ‘me’ and consider my needs, my mind. I had never had a chance to do that before. I just didn’t know I needed help”, he told me.
For many individuals like this, trauma, stress, and adverse experiences in their childhood, has caused fundamental harm that they have carried for years.
Our psychological capabilities, however, are not fixed. They continue to grow and therapeutic interventions can help with the healing process, providing the support and crucially the skills needed to cope on the journey to recovery.
Interventions like this, help us to understand ourselves better, and be more compassionate to our own needs. It helps us to understand our behaviours and how they are a complex interplay of our thoughts and emotions. And helps us to communicate and express ourselves in order to build relationships with others and the world around us.
These social and emotional skills are ultimately the foundations of any happy, healthy life, so why does it so often take individuals to reach breaking point, rock bottom or even a prison sentence to finally find the support they so desperately need?
Because surely if we really are talking about prevention and meeting our deep-rooted needs, our social and emotional knowledge and capabilities are vital to us all.
They need to be prioritised, normalised, and nurtured if we are to build resilience for the future – especially when we consider the demands and the toll our ever-complex world is taking on us as human beings.
So why focus on early childhood if we care so much about these things later in life?
As many of you in the room know, early childhood fundamentally shapes the adults we become.
It is the golden opportunity to establish the core foundations and capabilities we need to thrive all the way through our lives. This period, especially between pregnancy and five, is when the brain is at its most receptive, and developing faster than any other time in our lives.
Despite the fact that each and every one of us, has had our own childhoods, few people understand the true impact our formative years have had on shaping who we are today.
That is why I decided to launch the Shaping Us campaign – to raise awareness of, and action on the importance of this critical time.
The latest science clearly indicates that early childhood development must focus on more than just the physical and technical skills of our children – we also need to prioritise their inner worlds too. Because their social and emotional development helps them understand and value who they are, and profoundly shapes how they think, behave, and connect to others.
How they manage anxiety, low mood, tantrums, self-loathing or anger; these are the things that will shape their future lives, and without solid foundations in childhood, they may become vulnerabilities later. No matter how outwardly successful they may be.
Our ability to do all this requires a social and emotional skill set and if we don’t put these building blocks in place when we’re young, we find it much harder to manage ourselves, communicate and connect to others and engage with the world around us in adulthood, leaving us vulnerable to isolation and adversity.
That is why I have convened this Shaping Us Symposium, and why I initiated a global listening exercise earlier this year working with senior experts from 21 countries.
I wanted us to look deeper and discover how we help people to grow, think, and behave throughout life. Uniting many different fields as we do so – from our health and education systems, charities, businesses, philanthropists, scientists, and academics – to consider this one question together:
What are the key skills we develop in early childhood, but continue to grow beyond it, that help establish the core foundations for life and allow us to go on to thrive as adults?
The task here was to find a common bridge and distil a set of core skills that could be equally applied to children and adults.
The findings are really quite exciting, and what is clear, is not only the untapped potential to bring these two worlds together but also just how important our social and emotional capabilities are, so much of the human wiring we need, for everything we will face in the future.
Nurturing skills that enable us to know ourselves, manage our emotions, focus our thoughts, communicate with others, foster positive relationships and explore the world are just as valuable to our long-term success as reading, writing or arithmetic.
These skills are the bedrock – not only for helping children to thrive, but also for restoring, protecting, and investing in humankind.
So, to rebalance and restore, calls for new thinking and action at every level. Because the future of our children is something we all build together; through the actions each and every one of us takes every day.
It is therefore time we understood that building a healthier world means nurturing the foundations that support our children – everything from the systems that govern early care through to our attitudes to those raising the next generation, and the support they receive.
Because if we can create a society which sees the child within every adult – and the adult within every child – we will finally start to change it for the better.