Roots of Empathy

Roots of Empathy

Roots of Empathy is an evidence-based programme that has shown significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among school children by raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy.

The Programme

At the heart of the programme are a neighbourhood baby and parent who visit the classroom every three weeks over the school year. A trained Roots of Empathy Instructor coaches students to observe the baby's development and to label the baby's feelings. In this experiential learning, the baby is the "Teacher", which the instructor uses to help children identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others.

The Roots of Empathy Instructor also visits before and after each family visit to prepare and reinforce teachings using a specialised lesson plan for each visit. Research results from national and international evaluations of ROE indicate significant reductions in aggression and increases in prosocial behaviours.

The Curriculum

Roots of Empathy primarily addresses the affective side of the curriculum (SPHE curriculum). However, it is cross curricular as it features strong links to maths, music, art, language and literature, and social, environmental and scientific education (SESE).

The ROE curriculum is specialised to the learning outcomes of four different age ranges from Junior infants to 6th Class. There is a theme for every family visit with nine themes covered and three visits per theme (Pre Family Visit, Family Visit, Post Family Visit).

In 2011 a curriculum specialist designed a programme match document between the Irish SPHE Curriculum and the ROE Curriculum.

The Roots

The programme was founded in Canada in 1996 by Mary Gordon. She is an internationally recognised educator, award-winning social entrepreneur, author, child advocate and parenting expert, who has created programmes informed by the power of empathy.

In 1996, she created the Roots of Empathy programme, which is now offered in different countries around the globe.

Barnardos Role

Barnardos, Ireland’s leading independent children’s charity was chosen as the Lead Agency to manage the delivery of Roots of Empathy in Ireland, with the exception of county Donegal where the HSE West is the lead agency.

Barnardos began its pilot programme in 2011 and is currently operating in 65 classrooms across Ireland.

The programme is run in partnership with local primary schools and is widely supported by a range of agencies and projects at local level, which have sponsored their employees to become trained Instructors and deliver the programme.

Volunteer Instructors come from a wide variety of backgrounds: HSE, TUSLA, Springboard projects, school staff, school completion projects, youth services and Barnardos staff.


Barnardos is planning to expand the delivery of the programme across a number of counties and is planning to train many more Instructors as part of this expansion. Training of new instructors take place every September and applications are open from May every year.

How to get involved

If you are...

  • Interested in becoming a Roots of Empathy Instructor or you know someone who would be interested
  • thinking of hosting a Roots of Empathy programme
  • having a baby soon and wish to find out about how to become involved, or know of a family with a baby who would be 2-4 months of age at the start of the programme (typically September/October), and who may be interested in participating,

please contact or for more information on how you can become part of this wonderful programme.

For more information about Roots of Empathy, including research, ethos and background, please visit



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