From September, the Roots of Empathy programme will be delivered to primary pupils in schools in every council area thanks to an investment of £1.2m from the Scottish Government.
The Roots of Empathy programme, a Canadian initiative, was founded in 1996 and first brought to Britain in 2010 by Action for Children Scotland.
It involves a baby and its parent visiting a primary class throughout the school year to help pupils aged five to ten understand their own feelings and the feelings of others.
The programme is currently delivered in 20 local authorities by Action for Children Scotland, and will be introduced to all 32 local authority areas in Scotland at the beginning of the new school term, reaching more than 400 primary classes and over 10,550 new pupils over two years.
Action for Children also runs Roots of Empathy in Newcastle and Wales, where the programme is coming to the end of its first year.
Seven schools across Cardiff were involved in the programme this year, which is being extended to Neath and Port Talbot next year and North and West Wales in 2015.
Last year, Roots of Empathy was launched in England by the Pre-School Learning Alliance. In September its sister programme Seeds of Empathy, for three-to five-year-olds, will also start in England.
New independent research into Roots of Empathy has found that as a result of the programme, children who took part now display greater levels of empathy and an increase in pro-social behaviour, voluntary behaviour intended to benefit others.
The research, carried out by North Lanarkshire Council’s Psychological Services in 2011/12, included a total of 785 primary pupils from 19 Roots of Empathy classes and 18 control classes. It found that:
- More than half (55 per cent) of primary pupils displayed an increase in pro-social behaviour such as helping, sharing, co-operating and volunteering. The figure is 33 per cent more than pupils in the control group who did not take part in the programme.
- Roots of Empathy pupils shows an improvement of 32 per cent more than the control group in relation to total difficulties, such as emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperactivity and peer problems.
- 59 per cent of those who took part in the programme showed an increase in cognitive empathy, the distinction between oneself and another, compared to 54 per cent of pupils in the control group whose cognitive empathy decreased.
- 51 of pupils showed an increase in emotional empathy, understanding the feelings of another, compared to 56 per cent of pupils in the control group.
Paul Carberry, director of service development at Action for Children Scotland, said, ‘Over 6,300 children from the Western Isles to the Borders have benefitted from Roots of Empathy since we first brought it to Scotland in 2010. Our research shows that the innovative programme has made a significant impact on their development at what is a very important age.
‘We are very grateful to the Scottish Government for its continued support. The overriding aim of the early years framework is to give children the best start in life, and Action for Children Scotland is proud to play a part in delivering this.’