The Duchess of Cambridge said Friday she wants to create a more "nurturing society" as she launched a report into the lives of young children
Duchess of Cambridge
Kate Middleton

Kate Middleton’s work on behalf of kids and families is having a “growing influence” that should bring about long-term benefits.

That’s the opinion of an expert who has worked alongside her as she built her coalition focused on the early years of development for children — work which reached a crucial moment on Friday as she released the results of a groundbreaking study.

In a speech, the Duchess of Cambridge, 38, spoke passionately about how she has learned over about a decade’s public work that many societal issues, like homelessness and mental health challenges, can be rooted in childhood difficulties.

“But I have also seen how positive protective factors in the early years can play a critical role in shaping our futures, too,” she said on Friday. “And I care hugely about this.”

Eamon McCrory, a professor of developmental neuroscience and psychopathology at University College London who joined Kate's steering group on this topic in 2018, has seen her experience and expertise blossom over that time.

Kate Middleton early years speech and forum
Kate Middleton at Kensington Palace this week
| Credit: Kensington Palace

"She is working with homelessness and mental health and with parents and perinatal care — she sees all aspects of the system," he tells PEOPLE. "She’s talking to neuroscientists and is interested in understanding what it means for parents or what does it mean if we are interested in tackling mental health. She is really interested in putting the pieces together and having a cohesive response.”

“She has genuine curiosity and a real respect and understanding of the science," Prof. McCrory says. "It’s really impressive.”

He adds: “There is a growing influence of her work, and it's likely to expand and have a long-term impact on the field.”

Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge early years' speech
Kate Middleton at Kensington Palace
| Credit: Kensington Palace

As Co-Director of the Developmental Risk and Resilience Unit at UCL, Prof. McCrory hosted Kate on a visit to his labs two years ago. Then, it emerged that she studied some psychology at the University of St. Andrews, he recalls. “She has retained a longstanding interest in emotional and psychological development from that time.”

“She sees first-hand in her work the toll homelessness, addiction and mental health can have on adulthood. And she sees very clearly the root of many of those problems lie in childhood," he adds. "To build a better society and tackle those problems, those first few years of life are really pivotal.”

On Friday, the duchess' office released a series of films on social media to help highlight five key findings from the U.K.-wide "5 Big Questions on the Under Fives" survey.

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Prof. McCrory says that the report — and the "extraordinary response" to the '5 Big Questions' survey before it — has sparked “national conversation not just among parents but everyone, including scientists about the role the early years plays in building a happy and healthy society.”

The entire, ongoing initiative underlines how much Kate brings together “a wide range of actors in society," Prof. McCrory says. She "engages the public, professionals in the sector, scientists and practitioners and in that way can bring together this kind of collective force to drive change."

“If we’re going to tackle issues like addiction, homelessness [and] mental health, that needs to begin in those first few years of life," he says. "It needs to be a collective endeavor. That’s the incredible power of this report and the forum today.”