We believe the case for early childhood starts with science and data. It's thanks to the work of researchers from all over the world that today we understand the importance of the early years and the greatest argument in favour of action is evidence. We've got to stay curious.

Annual Public Perceptions Survey

Every year, we’re asking the public to tell us how their attitudes to early childhood have evolved. From its societal importance to its links to areas such as mental health, find out what people have been saying by reading our report.

Read the 2023 reports

Read the 2022 press release

Read the 2022 reports

Early Childhood Roundtable

Did you know?

The Royal Foundation has partnered with the London School of Economics to calculate the cost of lost opportunity in early childhood, and has found that in England alone we are paying at least:

per year

This is the cost to society of the remedial steps we take to address issues – from children in care to short and long-term mental and physical health issues – that might have been avoided through action in early childhood.

Our research

We regularly commission research in order to better understand the economic, social and scientific context of early childhood. By listening to the public and the experts, our aim is to change the way that people think about the issue. 

View the first report in the 2023 series

Public Perceptions Survey 2022

Big Change Starts Small June 2021

Parental Loneliness Survey May 2021

State of the Nation Survey Nov 2020

Public Perceptions Survey 2023

The second publication of our yearly survey series tracking public perceptions of early childhood. The 2023 research provides tracking data on key measures of public awareness, knowledge and attitudes in relation to early childhood. In addition, the research explores key areas in more depth, including the perceived role of wider society in supporting early childhood and the public’s understanding of the role of key actors in the ecosystem around children and families. 

This research has been published as a series of focused reports during 2023, together with the full detailed report.

View the first report in the 2023 series

The new data shows an increase in awareness of the importance of early childhood over the past year. Nine in ten (93%) recognise the importance of early childhood in shaping later life, with a small uplift in the proportion saying it is very important (70%, +4ppts).  

Similarly, slightly more, now nearer one in five (19%, +2ppts), identify pregnancy to five as the most important period for shaping a child’s future life. However, despite the small uplift since last year, this still reflects relatively low recognition of the specific importance of early childhood compared with other life stages. 

The research shows that parents and grandparents are more likely to perceive the early years as important – and increasingly so when comparing figures to last year. Women and older groups also tend to place more value on the early years; male, ethnic minority and younger age groups less so.  

Three in five say they know something about how children develop, while roughly a third still say they know just a little or nothing. Over two in five say early childhood has a great deal of impact on a person’s future mental health, happiness and ability to maintain relationships as an adult.  

Importantly, the public are most motivated by wanting to see children living healthy, happy lives and protecting their mental health.

View the second report in the 2023 series

Over half the public (56%) say they know little or nothing about the role of health visitors in supporting children, parents and carers during early childhood – despite health visiting being a universal preventative public health service for pregnancy through to age five.
Of those who said they know something of the role, they were more aware of health visitors providing feeding support (61%) and conducting health reviews (60%). There was lower awareness of their role in supporting mental health (43%), parent infant relationships (42%) social and emotional development (40%), and speech, language and communication (39%). This pattern held true for parents too.

View the third report in the 2023 series

Two in three people (67%) agree that the love and support they received from wider family and friends in early childhood has had a big impact in shaping who they are today and the majority (55%) said the same about wider society more generally.

View the fourth report in the 2023 series

A third of people cite financial challenges as the biggest issues facing parents and carers of children under five. This is followed by childcare, including both cost and availability. 

View the full Public Perceptions Survey 2023 report

Public Perceptions Survey 2022

The first publication of our yearly survey series tracking public perceptions of early childhood. The 2022 report focuses on three key areas: the prioritisation of the early years, the link between the first five years of life and lifelong outcomes for mental health and wellbeing and the support parents seek when raising young children.

While there was near unanimous agreement (91%) that the early years are important in shaping a person’s future life, only 17% recognise the unique importance of the 0-5 period.

Detailed analysis shows that around 1 in 3 (36%) adults report knowing just a little or nothing about how children develop in early childhood. Even among parents of those aged 0-5, one in five (20%) similarly report knowing just a little or nothing. Depth of knowledge is variable, and a significant minority (31%) struggle to describe social and emotional development.

View key findings

View the detailed report

Following the 2022 public perceptions survey, we commissioned a second phase of research to build on the findings in more depth through qualitative research. This research explored parent’s understanding and concerns around early child development, their own childhood experiences, barriers and motivators to accessing parenting support, and views on wider societal perceptions.

This research found that parents tended to think in terms of physical and cognitive milestones in the early years, whereas social and emotional development wasn’t front of mind. It was common for parents to feel that there was a limited amount they could do to influence social and emotional development between 0-5.

View the findings

Big Change Starts Small June 2021

This report is a summary of decades of science and research on early childhood and why it matters. It offers the perfect starting point for those wanting to delve deeper into the issue and understand the evidence which underpins this unique opportunity.

View the full report

Parental Loneliness Survey May 2021

In May 2021 we conducted a survey with YouGov to explore levels of loneliness amongst parents with young children in Britain.



Over half of all parents report feeling lonely either sometimes (36%), often (13%) or always (3%).


Parents of young children have continued to feel lonelier as the pandemic has continued; those who feel always/often lonely increased from 9% in October 2020 to 16% in May 2021.*


What concerns parents most about their loneliness is the impact on their mental health and well-being (46%), which is more of concern to women (55%) than to men (36%).


Over half of parents feel that contact in person with their friends and family is the most important way they could be supported when feeling lonely (59%).


When asked what parents want their friends and family to do, 23% said they just wanted them to text, call or reach out more frequently, highlighting that there are really simple ways we can all help parents we know with young children to feel less lonely and to support their well-being.


In October 2020 Ipsos MORI conducted an online survey of 1,000 parents of 0–5-year-olds which asked how often they felt lonely, with 9% responding “Always/Often”. In the May 2021 YouGov online survey, 1,430 parents of 0–5-year-olds were also asked how often they felt lonely, with 3% responding “Always” and 13% responding “Often”.

State of the Nation Survey Nov 2020

Over the course of 2019–2020 we commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct research into public attitudes and understanding of the early years. In November 2020 we published State of the Nation: Understanding Public Attitudes to the Early Years, the biggest UK survey on the early years. This landmark research included the findings of the 5 Big Questions, which over half a million people responded to, as well as qualitative and ethnographic research, a nationally representative quantitative survey conducted before the pandemic and a follow-up survey on the impact on families of COVID-19.

State of the Nation 5 Big Insights:

Answering the 5 Big Questions, 98% of people believe that nurture is essential to lifelong outcomes, but just one in four recognises the specific importance of the first five years of a child’s life.


According to the survey, 90% of people see parental mental health and well-being as critical to a child’s development, but in reality people do very little to prioritise themselves. Only 10% of parents mentioned taking the time to look after their own well-being when asked how they had prepared for the arrival of their baby. Worryingly, over a third of all parents (37%) expect the COVID-19 pandemic to have a negative impact on their long-term mental well-being.


Some 70% of parents feel judged by others, and among these parents nearly half feel that this negatively affects their mental health.


Parental loneliness has dramatically increased during the pandemic, from 38% before to 63% as parents have been cut off from friends and family. The increase in loneliness for parents is more apparent in the most deprived areas. Compounding this, it seems that there has been a rise in the proportion of parents who feel uncomfortable seeking help for how they are feeling, from 18% before the pandemic to 34% during it.

Group 1772

Across the UK, communities have united powerfully to meet the challenges of unprecedented times, and 40% of parents feel that community support has grown. However, parents in the most deprived areas are less likely to have experienced this increased support (33%) than elsewhere.