The development of the service

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.

The aims of this service

• Assist each person to focus on their skills and strengths, with the facilitation of selfdirected plans and circles of support
• Coach/mentor individuals and their supporters to take the lead role in their life choices and supports
• Research and link with the local communities for each person based on their goals and aspirations
• Develop and strengthen each person’s natural supports and community relationships
• Develop individual and family capacity to self-direct services where possible, built on meaningful community and cultural connections
• Enable people to live in their own home, ensuring respect 0for each person’s rights and decision making
• Build on each person’s experiences of meaningful activities, to expand his/her choices about how they want to live, with consideration always given to social and emotional wellbeing.

Our model of support

The key components of the model of support consider contemporary approaches to disability support within a cultural context, including:
• a distinction between daily living support and individual, personal (inclusion) and goal-oriented support
• support staff rostered according to individual preferences
• the facilitation of informal supports, voluntary, unpaid relationships and involvement in community, cultural, educational, and vocational interests and goals
• a phased approach to establishing the individual service components, recognising that individual support requirements and the precise nature of these will unfold authentically
• inclusion methods that are self-directed, trauma informed and person-centred. This approach allows the person to explore various areas of their life as they choose what is important to their home, cultural, recreational, education, work interests, relationships, health, transport and communication requirements. The plan guides how services and support are individualised, organised and implemented, reviewed and revised with the person to address changing needs, choices and preferences. Synapse works with the tenant to develop their individualised plan and goals.
• Person, family and community centred planning guides how the services and support are individualised, organised, implemented, reviewed and revised with the person and their network of support to address changing needs, choices and preferences with a bias toward culturally informed understanding of wellbeing.

While acknowledging that the sharing of some resources may provide opportunities to improve cost efficiency, it is imperative that the integrity of the model is maintained with the flexibility to respond to individual needs, choices and preferences. Synapse approach to the delivery of the model of support safeguards against becoming a traditional facility based accommodation/institutional model. Some, or all, of the tenants may wish to become involved in mutual support.

The Community Living Initiative acknowledges community and cultural knowledge as the cornerstone of culturally informed support. As such, through meaningful dialogue and capacity building, an independent mentor works together with tenants and staff to strengthen practice, community connections and resolve issues that may have the potential to create barriers to personal achievement. The mentor remains independent of the support team and provides valuable insights and learnings regarding the barriers and opportunities to improve cultural safety for the workforce and individuals receiving services. The continued focus on listening and responding to the grounded experiences of those connected to the Community Living Initiative, are strengthened through the role of the mentor.

Building Projects Across Australia

Synapse is working with government and housing organisations to replicate the Community Living Initiative in other Australian regions.