Sanctuary: A Trauma-Informed Organizational Change Model

Joseph Benamati (bio) recounts the role of and inspiration for Sanctuary, a trauma-informed organizational change model.


Sanctuary is a trauma-informed organizational change model. It attempts to change the culture of an agency. It tries to make it more trauma informed. And it's an "everybody" model, which means that it's not just for clients, it's for staff and the organization as a whole.

My role in the Sanctuary Institute is as a senior faculty member. And my job, right now, is I'm assigned to the New York State Office of Children and Family Service Juvenile Justice Division. We're implementing Sanctuary in all of the max-secure, medium- and limited-secure sites around New York state and in the New York City area.

Sanctuary is not just limited to focusing on children; it's focused on the children, their families, organizations, and the staff within the organizations. And then even community partners.

So for instance, in some sites around the United States, we are actually in an entire community wishing to become more trauma informed, to become more knowledgeable about how to treat the most vulnerable of its citizens.

It was developed in Philadelphia by Dr. Sandra Bloom; she's an adult psychiatrist. And she and two of her colleagues, Ruth Ann Ryan and Joe Foderaro, a nurse and a social worker, were running an inpatient adult women's psychiatric center.

And what they were finding was that the women were getting a little bit better. They were leaving the hospital, but they were coming back. And they were coming back with the same issues because they were unresolved. And most of their issues had to do with childhood traumatic events that were really never discussed back in the '70s.

And so patients were fighting with patients. Patients were fighting with staff. Staff were fighting with each other, and everybody was fighting the administration. And Sandy said, "There's got to be a better way."

And so she read a book by Dr. Silver called Sanctuary Trauma, and in it he describes how people who come to a place where they expect to find sanctuary only find more trauma. And he called that "sanctuary trauma." And Sandy said, "There's our name."

It really started out of a place where that particular hospital was moved five times. They were threatened with closure. They were losing staff. They had their funding cut. So Sanctuary didn't come out of a place where everybody was happy and everything was going well. And in fact, it came out of adversity.

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Excerpted from an interview at CBITS Summit 2012 in Santa Monica, CA.

 

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