The first 72: Incredible insight into first steps in a domestic violence shelter

Sam speaking in the documentary.
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With 1,616 incidents of domestic and family violence reported between October 2022 and September 2023 within the Penrith LGA and Blue Mountains, The Haven – Nepean Women’s Shelter is shedding light on what happens in a client’s first 72 hours at their shelter.

Sam (surname withheld), Executive Officer, Client Services says that “coming to the shelter can be a daunting prospect for women, young people and children, so we want to remove uncertainty and show care and compassion during this time. For us, there are three key elements to the first 72 hours. These are safety and security, settling in and building trust”.

The initial step involves stringent security protocols to ensure the safety of women, young people and children seeking refuge from domestic and family violence.

Recognising that abusers may employ various tracking methods, The Haven takes precautions, including meeting the woman, young people and her children offsite in a secure public space. This allows for a thorough assessment to ensure they are not monitored or tracked before transporting them to site.

The first day, known as intake day, is a pivotal moment as families arrive at The Haven. Rooms are pre-prepared to provide a welcoming environment, with age-appropriate welcome packs for children, young people and women containing activities to ease their transition. The focus is on settling in, meeting staff and fellow residents, and engaging in grounding exercises to alleviate any anxiety and fear.

Building trust is paramount during the initial days.

The Haven employs a “doing work and being with” approach.

“The ‘doing work’ is the logistics of casework. It’s the tasks and things we’ve got to do, it’s also the goals you want to work towards,” Sam said.

“But a big portion of what we do is ‘being with’ and that’s all the nonverbal cues. The way our space is set up is trauma-informed. That means we have visual, tactile and auditory sensory cues to tell families when they come that this is a safe and calm environment.”

Safety discussions are part of building trust too and involve being clear about what this looks like. It’s important that a woman recognises her own efforts to keep herself safe and builds on that, incorporating them into the shelter’s safety measures.

Sam acknowledged, “We know building trust and helping families feel safe quickly helps to slow down their nervous system on that first day because anxiety and fear can be running a little bit high.”

Over the next two days, families meet with caseworkers who tailor support to their individual needs. Each woman is assigned a primary caseworker, while young people and children have specialist workers dedicated to addressing their unique requirements. The Haven provides essential needs, ensuring families have everything required for the first 72 hours, from food and toiletries to school packs for young people and children and access to the internet.

While The Haven strives to create a safe and supportive environment, shelter living may not be suitable for everyone. Unforeseen safety challenges or barriers may arise, leading some families to realise the shelter isn’t the right fit. Sam said, “We had a family come in and once they were onsite, they realised their in-laws lived around the corner. This wasn’t ideal as they wouldn’t feel safe going to the local shops or parks.”

In such cases, alternative arrangements are made, with collaboration between shelters within the Women’s Community Shelters network to accommodate specific needs.

Clients often share experiences through empowerment circles, initiated by existing residents welcoming newcomers. These moments of connection and shared understanding help women feel heard, believed, and not alone. The culture of trust and support extends to teenagers and children within The Haven, creating a community where residents look out for each other.

The first 72 hours at The Haven are dedicated to safety, grounding, and building trust. Through meticulous security measures, compassionate care, and a trauma-informed approach, The Haven strives to create a supportive environment for those escaping domestic and family violence.

By demystifying this critical period, the education series, “Heart of The Haven” aims to encourage individuals in need to seek help and support.

If you or someone you know requires assistance, please visit for a list of available services.

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