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The Sanctuary Model

The Sanctuary Model is a blueprint for organisations to build safe communities that help people heal from trauma.

The Sanctuary Model (Sanctuary) focuses on safety and creating an understanding of how past adversity can continue to have an impact throughout life. It recognises that trauma has an impact not only on the people who have experienced it, but also on the staff who work with them and on organisations as a whole.

Sanctuary enables an organisation to create a safe, non-violent environment and relationships that teach people to cope more effectively with stress and trauma.

Sanctuary is committed to:

  • Non-violence: We use unconditional care to stay safe and allow others to feel safe
  • Emotional Intelligence: We manage our feelings, so we don’t hurt ourselves or others
  • Social Learning: We are curious and learn from each other and from our difficulties
  • Democracy: All voices and views are heard and respected
  • Open Communication: We are honest and say what we mean with kindness
  • Social Responsibility: We help each other and take responsibility for our actions
  • Growth and Change: We acknowledge loss, are open to new ideas and are hopeful for the future.

Sanctuary encourages us to rethink the way we manage conflict resolution and crisis intervention. It supports staff and carers to form healthy communities and create a culture that prioritises safety and wellbeing at every level within the workplace.

Origins of the Sanctuary Model

Sanctuary is an evidence-informed approach that was developed in the early 1980s by American psychiatrist, Dr Sandra Bloom and her colleagues. Their model, developed in an acute care psychiatric unit where most of the patients were survivors of traumatic childhood experiences has since been adapted to residential care, youth detention, schools and a range of other community services.

Read more about Sanctuary and the Four Pillars on which the model is based.

MacKillop Family Services is the licensed provider of Sanctuary in Australia. Click here for more information on how you can implement Sanctuary within your organisation.

For more information about implementing Sanctuary in your organisation, contact:

MacKillop Family Services' Institute

237 Cecil Street
South Melbourne VIC 3205

Frequently asked questions

The impact of adopting the Sanctuary Model to your organisation should be observable and measurable. How does Sanctuary Work? illustrates a step-by-step process that highlights how the model results in improved outcomes for organisations and clients. The power of the Sanctuary Model is in the process.

Sanctuary is a theory-based, trauma-informed, evidence-supported, whole-culture approach that has a clear and structured methodology for creating or changing an organisational culture (National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2008; Rivard, Bloom, McCorkle, & Abramovitz, 2004). Read the California Evidence-based Clearinghouse For Child Welfare review verifying Sanctuary as an ‘‘Evidence-supported’’ model, rated 3 - Promising Research Evidence.

Research demonstrates that survivors of trauma can be resilient if they are connected to positive, caring service providers (Harney, 2007; Larkin, Beckos, & Shields, 2012). Sanctuary creates an environment in which staff can sustain work with traumatised individuals and build meaningful connections. In separate American studies (Rivard et al., 2005; Stein, Sorbero, Kogan, & Greenberg, 2011), research shows that Sanctuary offers a promising approach for creating a healthy environment that promotes emotional health and wellbeing for staff and service users.

Read the MacKillop Evidence Base for the Sanctuary Model.

Feedback from some of the organisations we have worked with to achieve certification in the Sanctuary Model includes:

  • improved staff morale and decreased staff turn-over
  • increased levels of hope, safety, trust, emotional intelligence and problem-solving skills (for staff and clients)
  • reduced incidents of staff and client violence or injury
  • more effective, honest and open communication

At MacKillop, Sanctuary has helped us understand that:

  • working with traumatised people can lead to staff and the organisation becoming ‘trauma-organised’
  • safety means something different for everyone within our MacKillop community
  • most of our clients and many of our staff have experienced adversity and will benefit from a trauma-informed approach
  • trauma-informed care has improved outcomes for clients resulting in a decrease in violence (physical, verbal and emotional)
  • a trauma-informed approach improved staff satisfaction and retention and reduced stress in the workplace
  • we need to make our processes more democratic and open