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New national research centre to ensure the best start in life

Children's first years are decisive for how they fare later in life. Therefore, University College Copenhagen, the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the LEGO Foundation and the TrygFonden are establishing a new interdisciplinary research centre with a special focus on younger children. In the centre's work, research and practice must go hand in hand with a view to strengthening efforts to ensure the well-being of our children

All children deserve the best start in life. A child’s life full of play and movement, good children’s communities and safe and supportive relationships that equip the child to handle challenges and achieve its potential. In the longer term, we know from research that a good childhood provides the best conditions for a good and healthy adult life with a high quality of life.

In Denmark, our skilled welfare professionals play an important role when they meet children and families during their upbringing – especially because the vast majority of children spend a significant part of their childhood together with other children in nurseries and kindergartens. But how can the pedagogue, midwife, health nurse, social worker and physiotherapist become better at helping and supporting young children and their families? And how can they develop their professional judgement?

A new research centre, the Centre for Better Childhoods, aims to help our professionals  support children and families. University College Copenhagen  is establishing the centre with support from the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the LEGO Foundation and the TrygFonden, which grants up to DKK 250 million for a period of up to 10 years.

In Denmark, the center will be the first fund-financed research centre of its size to be located at a university college, where welfare professionals are specifically trained. In this way, the center’s knowledge will be translated directly into the education of future pedagogues, social workers, midwives, health nurses and physiotherapists.

In addition, the centre will create a better knowledge base for practice, so that the professional work of supporting young children and their families is strengthened. Thus, the centre will conduct practice-based and cross-professional research closely connected to real life challenges.

“Today there is already strong research in the area, but we want to have a special focus on creating holistic solutions across all the professionals who surround young children and their families in the first years”, explains Dean Annegrete Juul from the Faculty of Social Education, Social Work and Administration at University College Copenhagen.

Annegrete Juul, dekan for det pædagogiske og samfundsfaglige fakultet, Københavns Professionshøjskole
Annegrete Juul, dekan for det pædagogiske og samfundsfaglige fakultet, Københavns Professionshøjskole

Denmark has a long tradition of investing in support for young children and their families. Virtually all pregnant women see a midwife, newborns and their families a health nurse, just as the vast majority of children go to day care. But our proud traditions and professional practices are under pressure, and despite major investments, Denmark is still below the OECD average when it comes to counteracting the consequences of inequality for children’s physical, mental and social well-being.

The universities colleges receive limited public funds for research, which makes the support from the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the LEGO Foundation and the TrygFonden absolutely essential. This funding will enable the building of necessary knowledge and capacity within the area and put profession-oriented and practice-oriented research at the forefront of solutions for children aged 0-6 years and their families.

“We know that play strengthens children’s quality of life, development and lifelong learning. We are therefore particularly excited that the ‘Centre for Better Childhoods is investigating the role of play in relation to children’s social, mental and physical well-being in the early years. And that the centre focuses on putting the new knowledge into practice, so that children in Denmark get to experience the results of the centre’s work directly”, says Michael Stahl, Team Lead, LEGO Foundation Denmark and Ukraine.

“Midwives, health nurses, pedagogues and social workers can be of decisive importance for  early development of children, and they do a great deal of work every day to support children and parents. We would like to contribute to these professionals gaining even stronger skills, so that more children get the best start in life, where they thrive physically, mentally and socially”, says project manager Frederik Mühldorff Sigurd from TrygFonden.

“Welfare professionals contribute to promoting the health and development of our children early in life, and thus they are also an important part of the joint effort to take action against increasing inequality in health, which we are very concerned about. By entering into close interaction with practice, the centre will pave the way for new knowledge that can be quickly translated and be useful for children and families and in the training of future generations of welfare professionals,” says Flemming Konradsen, Senior Vice President, Social & Humanitarian, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

The Centre for Better Childhoods is expected to open in August 2024, and the opening will be marked with various activities at University College Copenhagen.


The Centre for Better Childhoods has four main ambitions:

  • Achieve substantial improvements in welfare professionals’ skills and practices and thereby positively impacting the lives of children and families.
  • Achieve excellent research contributions within the areas of services for young children and parents, the translation of research to practice and complex intervention research.
  • Foster improved mutual understanding and collaboration between stakeholders in the field and, in doing so, creating the best conditions for further developing professionals to support children and parents.
  • Build research capacity and foster a new generation of researchers in Denmark with a focus on research that addresses needs and challenges in practice and strengthens the practice of professionals for the benefit of young children and their parents.

The Centre for Better Children’s Life is built around four research programmes, each of which, in their own way, must contribute to supporting the best start to children’s lives:

  • Emerging Parenthood
  • Play and Children’s Communities
  • Movement, Senses and Play
  • Collaboration for Equal Opportunities

The Centre for Better Childhoods receives financial support from the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the Tryg Foundation and the LEGO Foundation with up to DKK 250 million for up to 10 years. In addition, the center currently has the support of a large number of partners:

  • National knowledge environments: Center for Tidlig Indsats og Familieforskning, KU, Kronprins Frederiks Center for Offentlig Ledelse, AU, Institut for Idræt og Biomekanik, SDU, TrygFondens Børneforskningscenter, AU, SCOPAS – Formning af viden, begreber, praksis og forandringer i socialt arbejde, AAU, De øvrige professionshøjskoler: Absalon, UCL, UCN, UC Syd og VIA
  • International knowledge environments: Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE), Cardiff University – Professor Donald Forrester of CASCADE Centre will be part of the initial management team and help set up the Centre as part of Cardiff University’s partnership with UCC to support the establishment of the Center for better Childhoods– we will also work closely with Centre for Maternal & Child Health Reseach, University of London, Forskningsgruppe ”Samarbeid og sammenheng mellom barnehage og skole”, OsloMet, Forskningsgruppe ”Livskvalitet i barnehagen”, OsloMet
  • Civil society: Børns Vilkår, FOLA Forældrenes Landsorganisation, Mødrehjælpen, Red Barnet, Røde Kors
  • Professional organisations: Dansk Socialrådgiverforening, Fagligt Selskab for Sundhedsplejersker, Jordemoderforeningen, Landsforeningen for Socialpædagoger (LFS)
  • Public authorities: Kommuner på tværs af landet, Kommunernes Landsforening, Styrelsen for Undervisning og Kvalitet (STUK)

For further information:

Michael Duus Andersen

Press manager, Københavns Professionshøjskole

+45 23 44 53 83

Karen Bøgedal

Project manager, TrygFonden

+45 30 56 34 32

Nils Eskestad

Senior Corporate Writer, Novo Nordisk Fonden

+45 30 23 29 04

Rikke Bruntse Dahl

Senior Communications Specialist, LEGO Fonden

+45 53 19 54 31