Penelope Leach Biography

Penelope Leach is a research psychologist, specialising in child development and parenting. After a first degree in history at Cambridge University, Penelope took  a diploma in social work at LSE and then a Ph.D in psychology from the University of London. She researched into juvenile crime for the Home Office and then, as a Medical Research Council Fellow , into children’s development and upbringing. Recently she co-directed the seven-year Families, Children and Child Care study, ( the UK’s largest program of research into the effects of various kinds and combinations of  child care on children’s  development in the first five years . Penelope is a Visiting Professor at Winchester University, a Fellow of the British Psychological Society, and an Hon. Senior Research Fellow at the Tavistock Clinic and at the Centre for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues, Birkbeck. University of London.

With ten years of research behind her, the births of her own children made her acutely aware that most of the parents she buggy-pushed with did not have access to the information about children’s development and relationships  that she found  invaluable. There was a vast gulf between professionals and parents, theory and practice.  This provided the basis for her first book — Babyhood (1974), which pulled together for the first time what was known about infant development in a format that that was accessible to ordinary parents, as well as being of sufficient depth to engage the wider academic community. Babyhood was positively received, and was the stepping stone to her most successful book, Your Baby and Child (1977), perhaps the defining work of her career. It broke vital new ground as a comprehensive and  richly illustrated: help book for parents. Almost everything that had gone before of the same depth and range of understanding had read more like academic theses on child psychology.

Ever since, her career has been on parallel — but mutually reinforcing – tracks, bridging the gap between academic knowledge and real-life experience and trying to bridge that professional’personal gulf  in her own life by matching academic  positions with working in various capacities for parents organisations concerned with pre-school education, antenatal education  and day-care . She was  bvice president of the Health Visitors Association and President of the national Childminding association ; she helped to found the UK’s EPOCH (End Physical Punishment of Children) in the 1980’s and has been active in Children Are Unbeatable ever since. Among many honorary posts she was a founding committee member of  AIMH-UK –a branch of the World Association for Infant Mental Health – and  a former Trustee and current Research Adviser to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Penelope is best-known as the author of  Your Baby and Child sales of which surpass  2 million and 20 languages ( Latest  version  UK/USA 2010) and in 1998 won the British Medical Association book award for best medical book for general audiences. The book propelled Penelope to mainstream audiences, a Bafta-award winning TV series, and widespread critical acclaim. Penelope herself now modestly describes herself as “lucky because it was the right book, at the right time, but it was the start of revolution in our approach to  bringing up children.   Since then, Your Baby and Child has sold more than 3m copies worldwide, and Penelope can be credited as being an essential part of the upbringing of millions  of children worldwide.  Her work has been hailed by many as a bible for parenthood.

Advocacy for both children and parents is an aspect of all  Penelope’s work. In 1994 she tackled it directly in a book called Children First – What Society Must Do and Is Not Doing for Children Today, intended to speak for children and parents rather than to them.The contemporary relevance of those messages is highlighted as the economic recession impacts increasingly on women with young children. Such concerns do  not only affect children and parents but also society as a whole. It is in the hope of bringing them to the attention of  politicians and policy makers that Penelope joined the Mindful Policy Group of which she is a Director. MPG promotes evidence-based psychological, social and biological research, and seeks to bring it to the attention of politicians and policy makers in order to promote a more humane and caring society.

Penelope  has two children and six grandchildren, and was married for 45-years – until his untimely death – to Gerry Leach, the  award-winning Guardian science journalist.

Current work

Penelope’s research into child development and parenting has spanned thirty five years and her books, articles and television programmes  have contributed to a revolution in the way children are perceived and  brought up. The current focus of her work is contemporary infant neuroscience and the gradual resolution, by evidence stemming principally from attachment science, of many parenting issues that used to be subject to tradition, fashion or opinion… Today’s parents are the first generation in a position to understand that the relationships between their babies and each of themselves are responsible not only for infants immediate health and wellbeing but also for their whole growth and development as a person, brain and body, now and in the future. Some of this material appears in her most recent book for parents, The Essential First Year, published by Dorling Kindersley in 2010

On Family Breakdown

That understanding highlights the significance to children of parental separation – something that at least half  of  those born in Western countries will experience by the time they reach their sixteenth birthdays and which Penelope herself experienced when her parent  divorced whehn she was ten. Penelope has  worked extensively with separated or separating couples throughout her career,  and has seen at first hand the often devastating consequences. Her latest book –  Family Breakdown: helping children to hang on to both parents -like Your Baby and Child before it, is a distillation of her knowledge in this difficult terrain. She decided to write it at this particular time  because  research information from attachment science is simultaneously highlighting the damage being done to children when parents separate and showing parents  and their advisers, what can be done to minimise it.