In the year 2023, is it enough for royals to just 'lend their name' to worthy causes?
Earlier this week, the Princess of Wales, Catherine Middleton, launched what has been dubbed her "life's work" – a campaign centred on the importance of the first five years of a child's life, the period in which the brain develops faster than at any other time. It's reported that Kate was inspired to create 'Shaping Us' after being struck during royal engagements by how often people with ill mental health had experienced troubled early years.
The launch comes at a time when discussions on the role the royals play within society (and the family's survival) are rife, with their privilege and vast wealth being placed under a mighty magnifying glass. In part, no doubt, thanks to to Prince Harry's unflattering portrayal of many family members in his memoir, Spare.
Speaking at a BAFTA event, which saw the screening of a short claymation film about the first formative years of a child's life, the Princess said it is "more important than ever" to aid in and support the development of young children in their early years. But it seems not everyone is satisfied with the goals of her project, which at this stage appears to focus mostly on raising awareness and research.
"The way we develop, through our experiences, relationships and surroundings during our early childhood, fundamentally shapes our whole lives," Kate added. "It affects everything from our ability to form relationships and thrive at work, to our mental and physical wellbeing as adults and the way we parent our own children.
"By focusing our collective time, energy and resources to build a supportive, nurturing world around the youngest members of our society and those caring for them, we can make a huge difference to the health and happiness of generations to come. All of society has a role to play in this, because we are all responsible for building a more compassionate world in which our children can grow, learn and live."
The Princess continued, "In these difficult times, it is more important than ever to help support parents and caregivers to provide loving safe and secure homes for their babies and young children to survive."
Just a few hours until the Shaping Us campaign begins…
Wonderful to bring together some of those who’ve been on the early years journey from the start, alongside a few new faces, for a sneak peek at the very special film at the heart of #ShapingUs
Stay tuned tomorrow for more! pic.twitter.com/CE9eZMeQ49
— The Prince and Princess of Wales (@KensingtonRoyal) January 30, 2023
The launch was met with a mixed response on Twitter, with one tweet (receiving over a 16,000 likes) reading: "The Princess of Wales looks to be launching a sincere & thoughtful campaign, but it's kind of wild that Sure Start [a programme targeted at parents and children under four living in disadvantaged areas] was an evidence-based solution to the problems she's raising, was evaluated and found to be wonderfully successful, and we're sort of pretending it wasn't cut."
Others spoke out to question Kate's qualifications in the area of child development and asked if she'd be putting her own money behind the cause, as well as critiquing the seeming lack of a solid action plan. "What qualifies this woman, who has never had a job and studied History of Art at University, qualified to make these judgements?" asked one, in a tweet that garnered close to 4,000 likes. "And what solutions is she proposing? And what amount of her vast wealth is she donating to the cause?" [NB: prior to marrying into the royal family, Kate worked as a buyer for the fashion brand Jigsaw, so the comment about her 'never having had a job' is categorically false]
In response, royal fans were quick to defend the Shaping Us initiative and pointed out that the Princess was using her public profile for a worthy cause, and that the campaign is a long-term initiative which is still developing.
"To all the people hating on The Princess of Wales, just remember she's brought together brilliant minds across the medical field to concentrate solely on the early years (under 5)," wrote one royal enthusiast. "It's an area that's VERY underfunded and unsupported, she's using her platform for GOOD."
They continued: "Yes she's privileged but should that stop people from using their voice for good? She has the resources available to make lasting impact and change to children and their futures. I wish there was more being done by the government, but hopefully they'll have an awaking."
As for specific aims of the campaign, an open letter written by the Princess says initially the focus is on raising awareness, "[Early childhood] is a time where we lay the foundations and building blocks for life [...] But as a society, we currently spend much more of our time and energy on later life. I am absolutely determined that this long-term campaign is going to change that.
"[Shaping Us] will start by highlighting how we develop during early childhood and why these years matter so much in terms of shaping who we become. I will be joined by a remarkable group of experts spanning science, research, policy making and front-line practice as well as an exciting group of well-known faces from music, sport and television, to show all of us, why it is in all of our interests to care about this."
The open letter does not specify further goals of the scheme, but elsewhere on the Royal Foundation's Centre for Early Childhood is a page detailing the experts the Princess has gathered together to "support the delivery of the Centre's work in commissioning new research, learning from best practice in the UK and globally, and raising awareness of the extraordinary impact the first five years of life have on future outcomes".
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