What is The Sanctuary Model?

Girl Smelling Flower

Over the years, PEP has worked with children and youth in Greater Cleveland who have experienced significant trauma or chronic stress – life events, for example, that could include abuse, neglect, loss of a loved one, having a debilitating illness, witnessing violence or bullying. The Sanctuary Model – developed by Dr. Sandra Bloom, a nationally recognized psychiatrist – is an organizational mindset that helps us understand trauma and how it affects people.

At its core, Sanctuary is about shifting the question from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What’s happened to you?”

Sanctuary seamlessly integrates with PEP’s Re-ED beliefs and helps us build on the strengths of the child, family and community. PEP’s ability to embrace Sanctuary as an organizational anchor – one that permeates how staff approach every situation – is emblematic of the agency’s commitment to learning and evolving.

As a Sanctuary-certified organization, PEP has adopted these seven commitments to help those children and families we serve heal from trauma:

  1. Commitment to Nonviolence: Being safe outside (physically), inside (emotionally), around other people (socially) and to do the right thing (morally).
  2. Commitment to Emotional Intelligence: Managing our feelings so that we don’t hurt ourselves or others.
  3. Commitment to Social Learning: The chance to learn from our mistakes rather than be punished and ashamed.
  4. Commitment to Democracy: Shared decision-making among the entire family, group or community.
  5. Commitment to Open Communication: Developing trust — saying what we mean and not being mean when we say it.
  6. Commitment to Social Responsibility: We can do more if we work together. Everything we do matters to the whole family, and everyone must contribute.
  7. Commitment to Growth and Change: Creating hope for the future of the entire family.
  8. Commitment to Equity and Justice: Committing to practices that are inclusive and just.

What can I do?

Integrating aspects of the Sanctuary toolkit into your life can help regulate emotions and improve communication between individuals. Here are two Sanctuary tools used regularly at PEP.

Community Meetings: At PEP, all classes, staff meetings and treatment team meetings start with this simple activity. The idea is to identify concerns, create a routine, demonstrate care for one another and encourage sharing. The three questions that should be asked of everyone during the Community Meeting are: How are you feeling? What is your goal for today? Who will you ask for help?

Safety Plans: At PEP, everyone is required to have “safety plans” – small cards that list three to five simple activities they can use when feeling stressed. Some examples might include taking a deep breath, going for a walk or drawing a picture. The idea is that by turning to a safety plan an individual will be able to avoid losing control of his or her feelings or doing something unsafe. Safety, of course, can refer to being physically or emotionally safe.


Click here for a printable one-pager that describes the Sanctuary model.

Click here for a printable Sanctuary Tool Kit.