Sanctuary for sisters

Posted on 25 September 2018 by Angela Mallon

Our Sibling Sanctuary house in West Australia is the first stable and secure home two young sisters have known. Twin sisters Lisa* and Rachel* came to MacKillop four years ago aged 10 years. The girls had experienced a chaotic early life and had been in care since they were four, moving around seven different residential care facilities before coming to MacKillop.

Arriving with challenging behaviour, the girls were constantly fighting, aggressive and violent towards each other and staff. New to West Australia at the time, MacKillop established a specialist team around the girls, including social worker Ershvin, who used the Sanctuary Model principles of SELF to help the sisters work through the trauma they had experienced in their past.

The first non-negotiable rule that was established in the house was the Sanctuary pillar of non-violence. Initially difficult for the girls who were hugely resistant as they were not used to regulating their emotions, staff began to slowly see a change in their behaviour. Introducing the girls to the concept of a safe space encouraged them to think about their emotions and how their words and actions impacted others.

Before long, violent incidents, which had occurred almost daily, began to reduce and there has been no violence at all in the home in the last eighteen months. The girls have learned how to talk respectfully to each other; they can resolve disagreements with proper discussion and best of all, they have learned how to articulate their feelings. If something gets too much, the sisters have learned to remove themselves from a volatile situation and calm down in their rooms rather than have an aggressive confrontation.

Both are now attending school regularly and have developed a relationship with their grandmother who lives in country WA but visits the home whenever she travels to Perth. The team have worked closely with the girls to help establish a bond with their family, with pictures of their grandmother in the house and regular phone calls to her and other family members.  

Security has given the girls confidence to learn about themselves and develop a closer relationship, as Rachel says, “We feel that this is our home and we don’t have to worry like we used to about when we would need to move to the next house”.

*Names changed and stock image used to protect identity