Princess Kate kicked off a new project this week. Shaping Us will raise awareness about the importance of the first five years in a child’s life. There were public appearances and even a “landmark speech” during which Kate said that:
"The campaign is fundamentally about shining a spotlight on the critical importance of early childhood and how it shapes the adults we become. This is why it is essential, to not only understand the unique importance of our earliest years, but to know what we can all do to help raise future generations of happy, healthy adults."
This is, ostensibly, an extension of the work she was doing with her Early Years campaign and that survey she put out. Which, to me, feels repetitive. I’m not sure if any of this is a discovery – like, of course what happens in the first five years is vital to a person’s development.
After 10 years, millions spent on PR instead of citizens queuing up for food banks, Kate Middleton can now tell us the result of her work. "Childhood shapes our adult lives". No shit captain Obvious. What a joke.— ChrisBaronSmith (@ChrisBaronSmit1) January 28, 2023
Is raising awareness really the job? Or is it turning that awareness into action?
I’m not here to doubt her intentions. Her intentions are good. She means well. She obviously really cares about this issue. But what is the value of intention without impact? Awareness is only a first step. The purpose of awareness is to bring action. Kate’s been doing the awareness on this for years. It’s the action part that hasn’t followed. Where action is concerned, though, it’s not really her fault that it hasn’t materialised. Because this whole endeavour exposes the futility of the royal cause.
In her speech the other day, Kate stressed that:
"Those involved in raising children today need the very best information and support in helping to achieve this mission – and this campaign aims to help do that too."
Information is one thing. But support? Support is more than just a campaign. Support is policy. Support requires fundamental change that happens through collaboration at all levels – governmental, community, social, and at times medical. There are so many barriers and challenges facing “those involved in raising children today”. Pay equality and childcare are two major factors that have an impact on caregiving for children. Access to proper health resources also plays a significant part in how a child develops. Housing and environmental issues are also a concern, particularly for children growing up in underserved communities. And I’m not just talking about funding. I’m talking about policy. Meaningful structural adjustments and even reforms have to happen to better protect and support families. And up to this point, through all these years, Kate’s Early Years project and now Shaping Us has addressed none of those needs. It simply just isn’t possible in her position as a member of the British royal family.
There are so many limits on what areas and causes they can be involved with that if they so much as go near policy and therefore politics they risk violating whatever rules there are about their conduct. “I believe the children are our future” sounds great in a song. But it’s just a song if you keep singing the same lyrics without actually getting into the weeds of the situation. How can we devote more resources to childcare so that parents can go out and financially support their families? Women are still the primary caregivers in most communities but the gender pay gap is still affecting their ability to both parent and work. “Half of all children in lone-parent families are in relative poverty” in the UK, with the “vast majority” of those households headed by women. And the cost of living crisis is exacerbating the situation. Many have said that governmental benefit cuts have contributed to the single parent struggle. How can Shaping Us really be effective if it’s not getting in on these conversations?
And yet, how can Kate get in on these conversations?
This is why her initiative feels simplistic. It’s not because she doesn’t want to make a difference, she does, but because there are limits to what difference she can actually make within the framework of how British royals operate. Unless, of course, she pushes those boundaries…which… doesn’t seem likely.