In 2007 and 2008, Synapse undertook significant work in the Cairns community supporting young people living in, or at risk of, moving into residential aged care. Synapse recognised that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people experience higher rates of disability and homelessness and are more likely to live in inappropriate and restrictive settings, including residential aged care, hospital or mental health facilities.
Synapse worked with the local community to develop the Cairns Community Living Initiative. Tenants first moved into the completed culturally safe housing in 2017 and Synapse provides an accompanying service delivering culturally safe support which increases tenant’s sense of autonomy, provides greater choice, and connects them to the things that are important to their identity and which hold meaning for them—creating a place where they belong.
Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples with a disability experience ongoing distress without access to culturally appropriate supports to deal with significant issues including, trauma, grief and loss, physical and emotional abuse, cultural disconnection, family violence and suicide. There is a risk if services do not respond to these issues in a culturally informed way, well-meaning service providers frequently do more harm than good.
Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander specific models of support have traditionally involved adapting mainstream services to incorporate some superficial Proper Way elements. The Community Living Initiative is unlike these models, in that it has been designed holistically, with the intent of cultural safety across the building and landscaping design, service model and delivery, governance and systems of operation.
Central to this support model is a physical environment which is culturally safe, in conjunction with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander led and culturally informed service delivery. The Community Living Initiative was designed and constructed by a consortium of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous architects, designers and landscapers and in consultation with the Traditional Owners of the land. All aspects of the physical environment have been designed to promote cultural safety.
In addition to the physical environment and the design features, the service delivery model is intrinsically designed to be culturally informed. Synapse is committed to innovation in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples service delivery and unwavering commitment to providing holistic support which is spiritually, socially, emotionally and physically safe, underpinned by the principles of social and emotional wellbeing, incorporating:
• tenant involvement in the design, delivery and evaluation of services
• flexibility in response to tenant needs
• a focus on sustainable individual support networks to increase natural supports and autonomy in the community
• engagement in ongoing skill development to support people transitioning to permanent accommodation – back to their country or into the Cairns community
• culturally relevant and informed support – underpinned by the principals of Social and Emotional Wellbeing and continually informed by outcomes identified during planning.