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Support Services

Cairns Community Living Project

Indigenous Services

Cairns Community Living Project

Warner Street


A safe place of belonging for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples with a disability 

The concept of the Synapse Cairns Community Living grew out of a need identified in the community - for a safe place of belonging for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people with a disability.


Synapse worked with community to establish the first service of its kind in Australia. Synapse Cairns provides culturally safe support and promotes opportunities for tenants to live a life of choice; connected with the things that are important to their identity and hold meaning for them.


Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people with a disability experience ongoing distress, without access to culturally safe supports to deal with significant issues beyond disability including; trauma, grief and loss, physical and emotional abuse, cultural and community disconnection, family violence and suicide. There is a risk if services do not respond to these issues in a culturally informed way, that well-meaning service providers can do more harm than good.


Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander services have traditionally involved adapting a mainstream service to incorporate some often well meaning but superficial Proper Way elements.


Synapse Cairns is unlike such models, in that it has been specifically designed holistically, with the intent of cultural safety integrated in the physical design, service model and delivery, workforce model, governance and systems of operation. Central to this support model is a physical environment which is culturally safe, in conjunction with Indigenous lead and culturally informed service delivery. The Synapse Cairns Community was designed and constructed by a consortium of Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners, architects, designers and landscapers and in consultation with the Traditional Owners of the land.


All aspects of the physical environment and operating model 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 Indigenous service delivery and unwavering commitment to providing holistic support which is spiritually, socially, emotionally and physically safe.


All aspects of the service model are underpinned by the principles of social and emotional wellbeing, incorporating:

  1. Tenant involvement in the design, delivery and evaluation of services
  2. Flexibility in response to tenant needs
  3. A focus on sustainable individual support networks to increase natural supports and self determination
  4. Engagement in ongoing skill development - acknowledging and respecting that for many, the most important goal may be to work toward a move back to their country or their chosen community
  5. Culturally relevant and informed support - underpinned by the principals of Social and Emotional Wellbeing


The aims of this service


Our Synapse Cairns service aims to:

  • assist each person in focusing on their skills and strengths, with the facilitation of self-directed plans
  • coach/mentor individuals and people important to them, to take the lead in their life choices and supports
  • build on each person's experiences of meaningful activities to expand their choices in regards to how they want to live with particular consideration given to social and emotional wellbeing
  • research and link with the local communities for each person based on what is most important to them
  • develop and strengthen each person's natural supports and connection with their community
  • develop individual, family and community capacity to self-direct services where possible, built on meaningful community and cultural connections.
  • enable people to live in their own home, ensuring respect for each person's right to decision making and self determination.


Our model of Support

Synapse Practice Framework informs the Synapse Cairns model of support. The key components of the model of support include:

  1. Distinction between shared daily living support and individual, personal and goal oriented support
  2. Support staff available according to individual requirements and preferences
  3. The facilitation of informal supports, voluntary, unpaid relationships and involvement in community, cultural, educational and vocational interests and goals
  4. A phased approach to establishing the individual service components, recognising that individual support requirements and the precise nature of these will unfold authentically
  5. Inclusion methods that are self-directed, trauma informed, and person/family/community-centred. This approach allows the person to explore various areas of their life as they choose such as what is important to their home, cultural, recreational, education and work interests, relationships, health, transport and communication requirements.
  6. Person, family and community centred planning guides how 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, integrity of the model is central to ensuring flexibility to respond to individual needs, choices and preferences.


Our 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; or may choose to live separate lives.


The tenants appropriately determine the nature of their own relationships and community not determined by funding preferences or western concepts of independence and autonomy that frequently work against cultural preferences and norms, cultural safety and traditional ways of connecting with culture, community and country.


Cultural Guidance and stewardship

The Synapse Cairns Service Model 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 also 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 Synapse Cairns, are strengthened through the role of the mentor.


Physical design features

The intentional design and use of landscape, built form and space considers essential elements that enable culturally informed supports to be provided and strengthened, including:

  1. Utilise a culturally appropriate & environmentally sustainable ethos for the design & construction of the building and landscape.
  2. The building design & materiality responds to, and supports, Indigenous lifestyles & social norms. 
  3. Spaces that promote external living, external & internal cooking, yarning circles, and a layering of private & public external spaces
  4. Built environment & landscaping - interconnected & encourages easy movement between the external & internal.
  5. Extensive surrounding landscape to maximise the rural amenity of the surrounding area
  6. Landscape - traditional modality of orienting time, place, creating familiarity and safety in environment



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