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Roots of Empathy

Evidence rating
Cost rating
Review: March 2017

Roots of Empathy is a universal classroom-based programme delivered to children from reception to year nine.

The programme consists of 27 sessions delivered by a trained instructor.

Nine classroom visits by a local parent and baby are central to the programme. The instructor coaches the students to observe the baby’s development and to label the baby’s feelings. The programme consists of nine core themes based around the baby. The baby acts as a catalyst that the instructor uses to help children identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others.

EIF Programme Assessment

Evidence rating

Roots of Empathy has preliminary evidence of improving a child outcome, but we cannot be confident that the programme caused the improvement.

What does the evidence rating mean?

Level 2 indicates that the programme has evidence of improving a child outcome from a study involving at least 20 participants, representing 60% of the sample, using validated instruments. 

This programme does not receive a rating of 3 as its best evidence is not from a rigorously conducted RCT or QED evaluation.

What does the plus mean?

The plus rating indicates that a programme’s best available evidence is based on an evaluation that is more rigorous than a level 2 standard but does not meet the criteria for level 3. 

Cost rating

A rating of 1 indicates that a programme has a low cost to set up and deliver, compared with other interventions reviewed by EIF. This is equivalent to an estimated unit cost of less than £100.

Child outcomes

According to the best available evidence for this programme's impact, it can achieve the following positive outcomes for children:

Preventing crime, violence and antisocial behaviour

Reduced relational aggression (teacher rated) - based on study 1

Reduced proactive aggression (teacher rated) - based on study 1

Roots of Empathy

Key programme characteristics

Who is it for?

The best available evidence for this programme relates to the following age-groups:

  • Primary school
  • Preadolescents

How is it delivered?

The best available evidence for this programme relates to implementation through these delivery models:

  • Group

Where is it delivered?

The best available evidence for this programme relates to its implementation in these settings:

  • Primary school

How is it targeted?

The best available evidence for this programme relates to its implementation as:

  • Universal

Where has it been implemented?

Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, Wales

UK provision

This programme has been implemented in the UK.

UK evaluation

This programme’s best evidence does not include evaluation conducted in the UK.

Roots of Empathy

About the programme

What happens during delivery?

How is it delivered?
  • Roots of Empathy is delivered in 27 sessions of 30-40 minutes’ duration each by an instructor to a classroom of children.
What happens during the intervention?
  • Roots of Empathy consists of 27 sessions which cover nine themes and include nine visits from a local parent and baby (two to four months at the start).
  • The nine themes, which relate to the baby, are as follows: Meeting the Baby, Crying, Caring and Planning for the Baby, Emotions, Safety, Sleep, Communication, Who Am I? Goodbye and Good Wishes.
  • Each theme involves three lessons: (1) a pre-family visit that introduces the theme; (2) a class visit by the infant and parent, where the instructor directs interactions and observations with baby and parent; and (3) a post-family visit where the students are guided to discuss the baby’s visit and conclude the theme.
  • During the intervention, children become engaged in lessons through stories, art projects and general classroom activities in which they reflect and discuss their own emotions and the emotions of others.

What are the implementation requirements?

Who can deliver it?
  • The practitioner who delivers this programme is a volunteer with recommended QCF-level 4/5.
What are the training requirements?
  • Practitioners have four days’ training and ongoing mentor support. Booster training of practitioners is recommended.
How are the practitioners supervised?
  • It is recommended that practitioners are supervised by one external supervisor (qualified to QCF-level 4/5 with 1.5 days’ training, as well as ongoing mentoring).
What are the systems for maintaining fidelity?
  • Provision of a training manual
  • Other printed material
  • Other online material
  • Video or DVD training
  • Face-to-face training
  • Fidelity monitoring
Is there a licensing requirement?

There is no licence required to run this programme.

How does it work? (Theory of Change)

How does it work?
  • Roots of Empathy is based on research and theory stating that emotion processes and social understanding play critical roles in children’s interpersonal relationships and social behaviours, including aggression.
  • Over the school year, through guided observations of the loving relationship between parent and baby, children learn the affective aspect of empathy (emotion) and the cognitive aspect of empathy (perspective taking).
  • Children develop emotional literacy as they identify and label the baby’s feelings, reflect on and understand their own feelings and then bridge to understanding the feelings of others.
  • By the end of the school year, children who participate in the Roots of Empathy programme show a decrease in aggression, including bullying, and an increase in prosocial behaviours. Children learn to regulate their emotions, building resilience and contributing to their wellbeing.
Intended outcomes

Supporting children's mental health and wellbeing
Preventing crime, violence and antisocial behaviour

Contact details

Katie Cohen
UK Manager, Roots of Empathy

Roots of Empathy

About the evidence

Roots of Empathy’s most rigorous evidence comes from a QED which was conducted in Canada. This study identified statistically significant positive impact on a number of child outcomes.

The conclusions that can be drawn from this study are limited by methodological issues pertaining to the treatment and comparison groups not being generated by sufficiently robust methods, measurement not being blind to group assignment and the treatment condition not being modelled at the level of assignment. For example, if schools are randomised, the analysis should compare schools, not persons, or use multilevel statistical methods that adjust for clustering, which is why a higher rating is not achieved. A programme receives the same rating as its most robust study, which in this case is the Schonert-Reichl et al. (2012) study, and so the programme receives a level 2+ rating overall.

Study 1

Citation: Schonert-Reichl et al (2012)
Design: QED
Country: Canada
Sample: Children from fourth to seventh grades of 28 public elementary schools. The final sample consisted of 585 children (280 girls, 305 boys). The mean age was 10 years, 7 months.
Timing: Post-intervention
Child outcomes: Reduced relational aggression (teacher rated)
Reduced proactive aggression (teacher rated)
Other outcomes: None measured
Study rating: 2+

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Smith, V., Zaidman-Zait, A., & Hertzman, C. (2012). Promoting children’s prosocial behaviors in school: Impact of the “Roots of Empathy” programme on the social and emotional competence of school-aged children. School Mental Health, 4(1), 1–21.

Available at:

Study design and sample

This study is a QED. The programme classrooms were matched with respect to gender of teacher, class size, grade level, and child characteristics.

This study was conducted in Canada and it involved children from fourth to seventh grades of 28 public elementary schools. 14 intervention classrooms and 14 control classrooms were included. The final sample consisted of 585 children with a mean age of 10 years, 7 months.


Understanding of infant crying was measured using a task adapted from the infant facial expression of emotion (IFEEL) pictures (child self-report). Empathetic concern and perspective taking were measured using subscales of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (child self-report). Child prosocial and aggressive behaviour were measured using peer nomination and behavioural assessment (peer report). Children’s aggressive and prosocial behaviours were rated on corresponding subscales of the Child Behaviour Scale (teacher report).


This study identified statistically significant positive impact on a number of child outcomes.  This includes the following (only EIF outcomes based on scales with established reliability and validity are listed):

  • Reduced proactive aggression (teacher report).
  • Reduced relational aggression (teacher report).
More Less about study 1

Other studies

The following studies were identified for this programme but did not count towards the programme's overall evidence rating. A programme receives the same rating as its most robust study or studies.

Cain, G., & Carnellor, Y. (2008). “Roots of Empathy”: A research study on its impact on teachers in Western Australia. Journal of Student Wellbeing, 2(1), 52–73.

Connolly, P., Miller, S., Kee, F., Rafferty, H., Bland, M., & Fenwick, E. (n.d.). A cluster randomised controlled trial evaluation and cost-effectiveness analysis of the Roots of Empathy schools-based programme for improving social and emotional wellbeing outcomes among 8-9 year olds in Northern Ireland (2011-2015). (Unpublished).

Kendall, G., Schonert-Reichl, K., Smith, V., Jacoby, P., Austin, R., Stanley, F., & Hertzman, C. (2006). The evaluation of ‘Roots of Empathy’ in Western Australian schools (p. 35). Perth, Australia: Telethon Institute for Child Health Research.

MacDonald, A., McLafferty, M., Bell, P., McCorkell, L., Walker, I., Smith, V., & Balfour, A. (2013). Evaluation of the Roots of Empathy Programme by North Lanarkshire Psychological Service. Edinburgh, Scotland: North Lanarkshire Psychological Service Research and Action for Children, UK.

Rolheiser, C., & Wallace, D. (2005). The Roots of Empathy programme as a strategy for increasing social and emotional learning. Programme Evaluation-Final report. Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto.

Santos, R. G., Chartier, M. J., Whalen, J. C., Chateau, D., & Boyd, L. (2011). Effectiveness of school-based violence prevention for children and youth: A research report. Healthcare Quarterly (Toronto, Ont.), 14(S2), 80–91.

Wrigley, J., Makara, K., & Elliot, D. (2015). Evaluation of Roots of Empathy in Scotland 2014-2015: Final Report for Action for Children.

Published March 2017   |   Last updated April 2017