Roots of Empathy

Program snapshot

Age group: Late childhood (7-11); Adolescence (12-17)

Gender: Mixed (male and female)

Population served: Aboriginal/Indigenous; Visible minority/ethnic group

Topic: Aggressive/violent behaviours

Setting: Rural/remote area; Urban area; School-based

Location: Alberta; British Columbia; Manitoba; New Brunswick; Newfoundland and Labrador; Northwest Territories; Nova Scotia; Nunavut; Ontario; Prince Edward Island; Quebec; Saskatchewan; Yukon

Number of completed Canadian outcome evaluation studies: 2

Continuum of intervention: Primary crime prevention

Brief Description

Roots of Empathy (ROE) is an evidence-based classroom program that seeks to reduce levels of aggression among school children by raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy.

The program is centered on social emotional learning.


The main goals of the ROE program are to:

  • develop children’s social and emotional understanding;
  • promote children’s prosocial behaviours and decrease their aggressive behaviours; and
  • Increase children’s knowledge about infant development and effective parenting practices.


The appropriate clientele for the ROE program are boys and girls from kindergarten to grade 8. Four different curriculums are available: kindergarten, 1st to 3rd grade, 4th to 6th grade, and 7th to 8th grade.

Core Components

The ROE program is a structured, age-appropriate 27-session curriculum delivered to entire classrooms by trained, certified instructors. The program takes place over the course of the school year for a total duration of nine months.

  • the program’s cornerstone is a monthly classroom visit by an infant and his/her parent(s) whom the class “adopts” at the beginning of the school year;
  • each month, a ROE program instructor visits his/her participating classroom three times: once for a pre-family visit, another time for the visit with the parent and infant, and finally for a post-family visit. The lessons (each lasting 30-45 minutes) are designed to foster empathy, emotional understanding, and problem solving skills;
  • in addition to the three classroom visits per month by the ROE instructor, each classroom teacher utilizes the lessons and ideas presented during the specific Roots of Empathy lesson within the general education program; and
  • finally, embedded within the ROE program are explicit components aimed at creating an ecology in the classroom environment in which belonging, caring, collaboration and understanding others are emphasized (e.g., opportunities for children to be engaged in activities that benefit their baby).

Implementation Information

Some of the critical elements for the implementation of this program or initiative include the following:

  • Organizational requirements: the lead organization is expected to be highly regarded in the community and typically has strong knowledge of the local school systems and a good history of dealing with education officials; a proven track record introducing programs into area schools; and extensive experience in successfully gaining money from governments, foundations, corporations and individuals. The lead organization manages the logistical elements which enable the program to happen.
  • Partnerships: ROE programs are only launched in areas where strong community support is in place. Partnerships include social agencies and the school board/individual schools.
  • Training and technical assistance: ROE instructors undergo an intensive three-day training session, prior to program implementation to become certified ROE program instructors. ROE instructors are mentored over the course of the program implementation. All instructors receive a booster session mid-way through the school year. Finally, all school principals and teachers are provided with explicit guidelines to follow in order to maintain the integrity of ROE program delivery.
  • Risk assessment tools: Limited information on this topic.
  • Materials & resources: Instructors are provided with a training manual delineating the theory and research guiding each ROE lesson, and a curriculum manual in which plans for each lesson are thoroughly described. The ROE curriculum is leased to instructors for as long as they deliver the program and must be returned when the instructor stops teaching. It is made available as part of the instructor training process.

International Endorsements

The most recognized classification systems of evidence-based crime prevention programs have classified this program or initiative as follows:

  • Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development: Not applicable.
  • Crime Solutions/OJJDP Model Program Guide: Not applicable.
  • SAMHSA's National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices: Not applicable.
  • Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy: Not applicable.

Gathering Canadian Knowledge

Canadian Implementation Sites

In Canada, the program is delivered in English and French and reaches rural, urban, and remote communities including Aboriginal communities. In 2012-2013, almost 60,000 children participated in the Roots of Empathy program across Canada.

Main Findings from Canadian Outcome Evaluation Studies

Study 1

An outcome evaluation study of the ROE program was conducted in 2012 by Schonert-Reichl and colleagues. The study employed a quasi-experimental control-group, prestest-posttest, multi-informant design and examined classrooms in Vancouver (British Columbia) and Toronto (Ontario).

Results from this evaluation showed the following:

  • Children in ROE program classrooms, in contrast to children in control classrooms, improved in their understanding of infant crying; significantly increased in prosocial behaviours via peer reports; and significantly decreased in proactive and relational aggression as obtained through teacher reports.

For more information, refer to Schonert-Reichl et al.’s (2012) publication.

Study 2

An outcome evaluation study of the ROE program was conducted in 2011 by Santos and colleagues. This study used a cluster randomized controlled field trial to evaluate the effectiveness of the ROE in schools across Manitoba.

Results from this evaluation showed the following:

  • As rated by teachers, ROE had beneficial immediate effects on all outcomes; reducing physical aggression and indirect aggression and increasing prosocial behaviour (in both the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 treatment groups). In contrast, the ROE effects were less pronounced and fewer were statistically significant, as per student self-rated data; and
  • For all outcomes across measurement times, teaching ratings and student self-ratings were not highly correlated. As rated by teachers, beneficial outcomes were generally maintained or continued to improve following ROE completion, with one exception: some of the gain for the 2002-2003 treatment group in prosocial behaviour was not maintained.

For more information, refer to Santos et al.’s (2011) publication.  

Cost Information

In 2011, the cost per youth involved in the ROE program was approximately $108 (CAD) per year ($4 (CAD) per child per session for 27 sessions) (Santos et al., 2011).


Santos, R. G., et al.  (2011). Effectiveness of school-based violence prevention for children and youth: Cluster randomized controlled field trial of the Roots of Empathy program with replication and three-year follow-up. Healthcare Quarterly, 14, 80-91. Available from:

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., et al.  (2012). Promoting children’s prosocial behaviours in school: Impact of the “Roots of Empathy” program on the social and emotional competence of school-aged children. School Mental Health, 4, 1-21. Available from:

For more information on this program, contact:

Roots of Empathy
250 Ferrand Drive, Suite 1501
Toronto, Ontario M3C 3G8
Telephone: (416) 944-3001

Record Entry Date - 2018-03-12

Date modified: