Watch a video report by ITV News Anglia's Rebecca Haworth
Nursery bosses told the Princess of Wales the early years sectors was in desperate need of more investment, as she paid a visit to a nursery.
The princess has been championing the importance of the early years development of children for many years and visited the Foxcubs Nursery in Luton to highlight the issue.
As well as chatting to parents and staff she spoke to educators about the effects of Covid and the cost of living crisis.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the educational charity Early Years Alliance, which runs the Foxcubs nursery, spent time speaking to the princess and told ITV News Anglia she was acutely aware of the need for more funding.
"Parents are challenged - we are in a cost of living crisis and we are also seeing many providers go by the wayside," he said.
"In fact we've seen record closures in the last 12 months, nearly five-and-a-half thousand providers closed their doors and the princess recognises the importance of early years development.
"We've had decades of, dare I say, neglect.
"In terms of staff recruitment and retention I have to say it is an absolute crisis: we have people leaving in droves because they feel exhausted and undervalued.
"It's not just about babysitting, it's not just about parents returning to work, it's about creating good citizens, people who care for our planet. I think she recognises all of that."
Rated outstanding by Ofsted, Foxcubs Nursery, offers 70 places for local children aged between two and five years old.
The Princess of Wales quizzed the staff about their experiences and, speaking about the importance of nurseries, told them: "I think we really saw that highlighted during the pandemic. I think families realised and communities realised, (when) these spaces were closed down for the majority of the time, I think everyone realised how vital they were."
Tina Ewer, who has worked at the nursery for nearly three years, said the visit went down a storm.
"Quite a few of these children were actually born in lockdown, they never got out to socialise, some of them live in flats so they never got to play in the garden.
"The impact of Covid did affect some of the speech and language for some of the children, so we put different things in place to help support the children.
"The children loved the visit, they were talking to her, telling about Chinese new year, making different masks."
The princess's passion about highlighting the importance of the formative years of a child's life led her to establish the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood.
The institution stems from research which shows the first five years of childhood fundamentally shape adulthood, with social challenges such as addiction, violence, family breakdown, homelessness and mental health having their roots in the earliest years of life.
The Department for Education said: "We have invested more than £20bn over the past five years to support families with the cost of childcare.
"We're also investing millions in better training for staff working with pre-school children."
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