Decreasing Aggression and Violence in School Children

Client: Roots of Empathy
Firm: Blake, Cassels & Graydon, the Lex Mundi member firm for Canada (Ontario, Alberta, and Québec)
Sector: Mental Health, Violence Prevention
Issue: Contracts, Real Estate, IP, Employment, Governance

In 1996, after witnessing a repeating cycle of violence and poverty, Mary Gordon developed an evidence-based classroom program that has shown significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among school children while raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy.  She found Roots of Empathy to build caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults.

The Roots of Empathy program reaches elementary schoolchildren from Kindergarten to Grade 8. In Canada, the program is delivered in English and French and reaches rural, urban and remote communities including Aboriginal communities.  Roots of Empathy is also delivered in New Zealand, the United States, Isle of Man, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

At the heart of the program are a neighborhood infant 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" and a lever, which the instructor uses to help children identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others.  This "emotional literacy" taught in the program lays the foundation for more safe and caring classrooms, where the children are "Changers."  They are more competent in understanding their own feelings and the feelings of others (empathy) and are therefore less likely to physically, psychologically and emotionally hurt each other through bullying and other cruelties. In the Roots of Empathy program children learn how to challenge cruelty and injustice.

Pro Bono Legal Project: Roots has had a tremendous impact on multiple continents, and Mary Gordon is adamant that without the Pro Bono assistance of Blake, Cassels & Graydon much of Roots' impact would not have materialized.  In short, Blakes has provided ongoing substantial pro bono assistance to Mary and her team.  Among the many matters on which Blakes has provided pro bono assistance are contractual reviews between school boards and governments, advice on real estate leases, risk management and analysis, research on nonprofit expansion into additional jurisdictions, Board governance counsel, employment law compliance advice and intellectual property protections.  Finally, Mario Nigro of Blakes, has committed to serving on Roots' board and to connecting Roots with other Lex Mundi member firms as Roots expands its work around the world.