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Leading children’s charity lays Roots of Empathy in Scotland

An innovative programme that teaches school children to understand their own feelings and the feelings of others by using a baby as a ‘teacher’ is being introduced in 15 local authorities across Scotland by Action for Children. Roots of Empathy – ‘empathy’ being the ability to identify with another’s feelings and emotions – is an effective and proven intervention programme for reducing bullying and aggression within schools. A baby and its parent visit a primary class throughout a school year, allowing pupils to observe the baby’s emotions and its relationship with its parent. Louise Warde-Hunter, strategic director of children’s services at Action for Children, explains how the programme works: “Roots of Empathy focuses on raising levels of empathy, resulting

in more respectful relationships. It has shown dramatic effect in reducing levels of aggression among schoolchildren by raising social and emotional competence and increasing empathy. This ‘emotional literacy’ lays the foundation for safe and caring classrooms and, in the long-term, safe and caring societies.”

The award-winning programme was developed in Canada in 1996 by social entrepreneur Mary Gordon and has been delivered to 450,000 children all over the world, including Canada, the USA, New Zealand, the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Last year, Action for Children piloted Roots of Empathy in North Lanarkshire, bringing it to mainland UK for the first time. Following investment from the Scottish Government and Inspiring Scotland Early Years Early Action fund, Action for Children is now


preparing to launch Roots of Empathy in primary schools across Scotland this winter. Louise Warde-Hunter continues: “We are proud to be able to bring this pioneering programme to

Scotland and would like to thank our partners in Scottish Government for their support. Action for Children has a proven track record in developing preventative and innovative approaches which help to significantly improve outcomes for vulnerable children, families and young people across the UK.” Roots of Empathy focuses on raising levels of empathy amongst

participants, resulting in more respectful and caring relationships, as well as reduced levels of bullying and aggression within classrooms. According to research by British Columbia1


• Teachers reported a significant decrease in aggressive behaviour by children in Roots of Empathy programmes, in contrast to an increase in such behaviour by members of the control group over the same period

• Children who completed Roots of Empathy were much more likely to enjoy positive social interaction with their classmates, recognising acts of kindness such as sharing, helping and understanding

• Roots of Empathy participants significantly improved in their ability to understand and respond to the baby’s emotions - independently suggesting possible causes for the baby’s crying

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Smith, V., Anat Zaidman-Zait, A., & Hertzman, C. (2011) Promoting Children’s Prosocial Behaviours in School: Impact of the “Roots of Empathy” Program on the Social and Emotional Competence of School-Aged Children.


Early Years, Early Action - Roots of Empathy briefing event

Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh

Wednesday 2 November 2011 5.45pm – 8pm

On Wednesday 2 November, Action for Children is hosting Early Years, Early Action, a Roots of Empathy briefing event for anyone who would like to find out more about, and share the international learning from, the pioneering Roots of Empathy programme.

Founder, President, and inspiration behind Roots of Empathy, Mary Gordon, will also speak at the event. Mary is recognised internationally as an award-winning social entrepreneur, educator, author, child advocate and parenting expert.

Margaret Mitchell MSP - who last year lodged a Parliamentary motion welcoming the launch of Roots of Empathy in Scotland - and North Lanarkshire Council, will give perspectives on why they have lent their support to the programme. The keynote speech will be provided by Angela Constance MSP, the Minister for Children and Young People.

If you would like to attend this event please email may.rutherford@actionforchildren. Action for Children to reserve a place.

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