Kate believes the right support, from birth, can help disadvantaged youngsters reach their potential.
She is bringing together experts from academia, education, health and other fields to work on how to help families tackle anti-social behaviour, addiction and mental health.
The Duchess of Cambridge at Reach Academy in Feltham, London in January
The Duchess of Cambridge is given two teddy bears by patient Ava Watt as she arrives to visit Great Ormond Street Hospital
Kate believes the right support, from birth, can help disadvantaged youngsters reach their potential
The subject is politically fraught, with some blaming Broken Britain on parents and others blaming budget cuts. But sources say the 36-year-old duchess is determined to push ahead because she sees it as potentially as big an issue as climate change.
‘This is a lifelong project,’ said one royal source. ‘She is looking at what she can do over the next five, ten, 15, 20 years. She wants to be able to look back and see what difference has been made. That’s what her position in public life allows her to do.’
Researchers have highlighted the importance of early intervention and how children from disadvantaged backgrounds who do not receive the right help at school age can suffer lifelong problems.
Education secretary Damian Hinds and Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman have both spoken recently of the need to help children who are not taught basic skills by their parents.
If youngsters have limited vocabulary and are not toilet-trained when they start school, they are already behind their peers and many never catch up.
The duchess’s initiative, which will be launched in the new year, is a major solo move. Until now she has worked on campaigns alongside her husband William and brother-in-law Harry.
The Duchess of Cambridge visiting the Reach Academy Feltham, in London, a school working in partnership with Place2Be and other organisations to support children, families and the school community
Duchess of Cambridge visits Robin Hood Primary School to celebrate their work with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Campaign for School Gardening
By seizing on an issue she wants to campaign about for the rest of her life, she is following in the footsteps of Prince Charles’s decades-long campaign to highlight environmental issues.
She insists she will steer clear of public policy, instead using her ‘convening power’ to bring together experts, charities and academics in the field under the umbrella of the Royal Foundation, the charity for the younger royals.
The findings will be published by Kensington Palace next year.
The duchess’s initiative, which will be launched in the new year, is a major solo move. Until now she has worked on campaigns alongside her husband William and brother-in-law Harry
Kate Middleton attends Chance UK charity event in Islington Town Hall
Experts the Duchess plans to lean on
SCOTT GREENHALGH is the chairman of Bridges Evergreen, which invests in social enterprises providing nurseries in disadvantaged areas, affordable housing or care homes
Professor JANE BARLOW is a senior academic in the Department of Public Health at the University of Oxford
KATE BILLINGHAM CBE is a former Deputy Chief Nurse for England
NAOMI EISENSTADT is deputy chairman of the Poverty and Inequality Commission for Scotland
Professor LEON FEINSTEIN is a senior director for the Children’s Commissioner for England
Professor PETER FONAGY OBE is head of psychology and language sciences at University College London and chief executive of the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families
Dr ALAIN GREGOIRE is the founder of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance
ANNAMARIE HASSALL MBE is a director at the National Children’s Bureau
DAVID HOLMES CBE is the chief executive of the Family Action charity
Professor EAMON McCRORY is an academic at UCL, whose work uses brain imaging to study children’s mental health
Dr MATTHEW PATRICK is chief executive of a south London NHS mental health trust
KATE STANLEY is director of strategy at children’s charity the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
ED VAINKER is headmaster of Reach Academy, a top free school in Feltham, west London
According to sources, Kate has acknowledged in private that her detractors are likely to question what she, as a privately-educated and extremely privileged young woman, could possibly know about poverty and lack of family cohesion.
She has often spoken of how lucky she feels to be part of a close and loving family who have always supported her.
But she maintains that it is her duty as a member of the Royal Family to use her position to look at fundamental issues affecting the nation on a long-term basis.
Last year the duchess visited the Reach Academy in west London as patron of Place2Be.
Guru: Why Kate is just perfect for this key role
The Duchess of Cambridge’s work in early intervention is ‘the most important thing anyone could be doing’, one of her senior advisers has said.
Professor Peter Fonagy, pictured, started working closely with Kate soon after the birth of her daughter Princess Charlotte in 2015 and is a member of her new steering group.
He said: ‘She came with a very deep interest even then about childhood and the influence of childhood on later development and she was surprisingly well informed about it. She was clearly on a journey of learning but had a good understanding of the importance of early development on the rest of life.’
The heavyweights on the committee convened by Kate show the seriousness with which she is approaching the issue.
Professor Fonagy said there are few greater issues facing the country today. ‘[She] could affect the future of an entire generation with her work,’ he added.
The academic is head of the division of psychology and language sciences at University College London. He is also chief executive of the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, which provides clinical support, particularly for under-fives, and undertakes its own research.
Hungarian-born Professor Fonagy, 65, speaks from personal experience, having been treated by the centre as an adolescent for depression.
He said the steering group hopes to come up with a clear plan of how organisations can support parents through pregnancy and beyond.
Even encouraging families simply to sit down for a meal together and discuss their day can have a significant impact, he added.
‘What we have come to understand is just how important the early years can be in influencing the choices people make in life,’ he said. ‘The duchess can be such an incredibly important advocate for this issue.
‘She has a remarkable position to raise awareness about the importance of early years. I cannot think of anything more important that a person could do in her capacity.’
The charity provides support to 282 schools around the UK, promoting good mental health and wellbeing.
She has spent her maternity leave following the birth of third child Louis investigating ways to help vulnerable youngsters.
In a speech in March, she said: ‘We all know how important childhood is, and how the early years shape us for life.
‘We also know how negative the downstream impact can be, if problems emerging at the youngest age are overlooked, or ignored. It is therefore vital that we nurture children through this critical, early period.
‘At what stage in a child’s development could we, or should we, intervene, to break the inter-generational cycle of disadvantage?
‘The more I have heard, the more I am convinced that the answer has to be “early” and “the earlier, the better”. Addressing the issues only when they root, later in life, results in huge detriment: detriment to the healthcare, education and social support system in our country.’
Among the issues Kate is exploring is how to support vulnerable families from the earliest possible stage in order to get their children ‘school-ready’ and able to cope with their mental and emotional needs.
She and her expert advisers will also look at how to introduce better mental health support for primary school children, and at teaching parenting and relationship skills to teenagers before they even think of starting a family themselves.
One source said Kate had been ‘immersing herself’ in her work over recent months, and could often be seen sitting at home with ‘mountains of paperwork’.
‘She is getting to know her subject really well as she knows how difficult it can be for someone from the Royal Family to talk about issues like this. People will often accuse them of being “preachy” or judgemental,’ the source said.
‘But she has spent the past few years meeting hundreds of people struggling with mental health issues and addiction, and it all seems to come back to childhood.’
Kate has been seen only a handful of times since the birth of Prince Louis in April. ‘She has been working hard behind the scenes, nonetheless,’ one said.