UCL News


UCL experts help shape the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood

18 June 2021

In launching The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, has paid tribute to the “support, knowledge and expertise” provided by two UCL academics.

HRH The Duchess of Cambridge

Professors Peter Fonagy OBE and Eamon McCrory (both UCL Psychology & Language Sciences), have been working with the Duchess on the importance of early childhood for a number of years, and are both members of The Royal Foundation’s Early Years Steering Group.

Today, the Duchess formally launched The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, which will drive both awareness and action on the positive impact the early years has on individuals and communities.

The announcement follows 10 years of work by The Duchess, in which she has looked at how difficult experiences in early childhood are often the root cause of key social challenges such as poor mental health, family breakdown, addiction and homelessness.  

To coincide with the launch, the Centre also published its first report, Big Change Starts Small, which brings together leading sector research and sets out recommendations on how all aspects of society can contribute positively and make a difference on this important issue.

Both Professors Fonagy and McCrory supported in writing the report and were invited by the Duchess to attend a roundtable, to mark its publication, held at the London School of Economics. 

Writing in the foreword of the report, The Duchess of Cambridge says: “Our first five years lay important foundations for our future selves. This period is when we first learn to manage our emotions and impulses, to care and to empathise, and thus ultimately to establish healthy relationships with ourselves and others.

“It is a time when our experience of the world around us, and the way that moulds our development, can have a lifelong impact on our future mental and physical wellbeing. Indeed, what shapes our childhood shapes the adults and the parents we become.”

The Royal Foundation acknowledged all those who had contributed to the final publication and noted, “the report could not have been written without the longstanding support, knowledge and expertise of the members of the Early Years Steering Group”, which was set up by the Duchess in 2018.

Professor Fonagy, Head of UCL Psychology & Language Sciences and Chief Executive of the Anna Freud Centre, said: “It has been a great privilege to work with Her Royal Highness on this programme of work and observe her determination to combine what is best in current systems and most relevant in science.

“In this report she combines what she has learnt over years of careful study of early years services, with an extraordinary ambition to initiate a national change driven by compassion and expertise.

“The Report creates a real opportunity for change in our society through an improved understanding of why early years matter so much. I am proud that UCL has contributed bringing her vision a step closer to realisation.”

Professor McCrory, Co-Director of the Developmental Risk and Resilience Unit at UCL, said: “Drawing on the latest evidence the Royal Foundation report published today sets out a compelling argument for change: change in how as a society, we think about, support and invest in the early years.

“Neuroscience research has powerfully demonstrated the critical importance of this unique period of human life. There is enormous potential to build solid foundations for emotional, cognitive and social functioning, with benefits across the lifespan not only for the individual but also for our economy and collective wellbeing.

“I am hugely excited by the announcement of the Royal Foundation's new Centre for Early Childhood, which will act as a powerful catalyst and driving force to create change. Working together there is real potential to transform society for generations to come.”

The launch of the Centre comes one week after The Duchess was joined by the First Lady of the United States, Dr Jill Biden, on a visit to Connor Downs Academy in Cornwall. As part of the day, Professor McCrory was invited to speak at a roundtable on the importance of early childhood.

The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood will be based within The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the primary philanthropic vehicle of Their Royal Highnesses.



  • HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, credit Household of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

Media contact 

Henry Killworth 

Tel: +44(0) 7881 833274

E: h.killworth [at] ucl.ac.uk