Stamford Academy has adopted the Sanctuary Model, a trauma-informed model of organizational change, to improve the health and well-being of our young people and those who care for them.

Many youth at Stamford Academy have experienced trauma, sometimes frequent and severe trauma. We adopted the Sanctuary Model because we recognize the connection between trauma and behavior. The Sanctuary Model promotes safety and non-violence, which is climate we want for everyone at Stamford Academy. Sanctuary provides a model for how to treat young people and adults working together in a community, allowing us to set our own structures and guidelines for our young people. Sanctuary challenges us to think differently: For example, asking “what happened to this young person to make her act this way?” rather than “what is wrong with this young person?”


What are the key components of Sanctuary?
The seven commitments are one of the most important parts of Sanctuary and have been adopted by everyone at Stamford Academy:

  • Non-violence: being safe physically, safe emotionally, safe with others (socially), and doing the right thing (morally)

  • Emotional intelligence: managing our feelings so we don’t hurt ourselves or others

  • Social learning: learning from each other and respecting each other’s ideas and opinions

  • Shared governance: getting feedback and input from people before making decisions, engaging in shared decision making.

  • Open communication: saying what you mean directly to the person involved, saying things in ways people can hear them instead of a hurtful or mean way

  • Social responsibility: everyone makes contributions to the good of the community and helps each other for the common good

  • Growth and change: we have hope for a better future for our kids and ourselves; we believe everyone can grow and change


What is the SELF model?
The SELF model is a 4-step model that guides the way we work with young people to help them heal and make progress in their lives.

S = Safety. This is the foundation for everything. If young people are not safe (remember: physically, emotionally, socially, and morally) they cannot heal or make progress.
E = Emotions. Young people must be able to identify what they are feeling and must learn how to acknowledge and handle those feelings so they do not get in the way of them making the progress they want and need to make.
L = Loss. Youth must acknowledge loss and grieve the painful things that have happened to them in order for them to move forward and make progress.
F = Future. We must always help young people look toward creating a better future, for themselves and for our world.

Some tools we use at Domus to bring Sanctuary into our everyday routine:

Safety plans are small visual reminders used by youth and staff (often outlined on the back of their IDs) that list individualized methods each of us can use to manage our emotions to stay internally safe. We wear our safety plans so they’re available to us whenever we feel overwhelmed. Safety plans are a tool in our trauma-informed culture as well as a visible message that our goal is to keep everyone safe.


Community meetings allow youth and staff to make emotional connections, share everyday emotions, practice goalsetting, and take the temperature of how everyone is doing. The first part of trauma recovery is to create safety in a group. Community meetings are a healthy ritual that promotes safety and connection. It is also important for our young people to be able to think about their feelings, verbalize them, and continue with the day’s tasks without acting out those feelings. Three questions are asked during community meetings:

  • How are you feeling today? This question encourages youth to identify their feelings using their words. It is a powerful tool because at least twice daily, we ask youth how they are feeling.

  • What is your goal for today? This question promotes self-recovery. Individual goals, even as short term as a goal for the day, help create structure and a future-oriented hopeful plan of achievement.

  •  Whom will you ask for help? Our youth forget they can rely on other people. Asking for help allows young people to begin the process of regaining faith that others are there to help and support them. It also builds a sense of community, as we ask one another for help to achieve our goals.


The meeting concludes with a thought for the day.