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Our staff and research partners have expertise in epidemiology, social sciences, mental health and clinical practice.   


National Director, Impact and Evaluation: A/Prof Clare Townsend PhD. 


Dr Clare Townsend the National Director - Impact and Evaluation at Synapse and  is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Griffith University. Clare has worked in the field of disability and health since 1980. She has held strategic positions as a clinician, policy and service advisor and researcher in disability, health, child and adult mental health and specialist vocational rehabilitation at State and Commonwealth and international levels in government, academia and the Not-for-profit sectors. She completed her PhD in 2008 on the topic of international mental health policy development and reform.


Clare has a track record in the development and implementation of strategic research addressing the rights and needs of marginalised people with complex disabilities. From 2000 - 2009 she was Principal Mental Health Policy Analyst, Policy and Economics Group, Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research, where she undertook a lead role in the development of state, national and international mental health policies. She was Australian Manager of the International Consortium for Mental Health Services, undertaking a project supported by the Australian, UK and USA governments, WHO and the World Bank; and consulted to WHO and the European Union. This work informed and supported international mental health policy and service reform. From 2009-2013 Clare was Associate Professor, Director Systems Research, Centre of Excellence for Behaviour Support, University of Queensland. She pursued research to inform policy and service reform in relation to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people with intellectual disability and challenging behaviours exposed to restrictive practices. 


Since 2013 Clare has led the Synapse Impact and Evaluation team and the implementation of the Synapse research agenda, focusing on applied research activities addressing the needs of marginalised people, including Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples with complex neurocognitive (NCD) disabilities, including FASD. Synapse is the not-for-profit, peak body for NCD and the Impact and Evaluation team has attracted significant philanthropic funding throughout this period. Clare has designed collaborative research projects partnering with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, NGOs and government sectors. She is a Principal Researcher on the Guddi Project, a Partnership Project between Griffith University, Synapse, and the Queensland Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services.


The Guddi project has engaged with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities to develop a culturally safe and valid assessment tool and procedures to ascertain the extent and nature of complex disability amongst marginalised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people using trauma informed, culturally safe, qualitative and quantitative methodologies. The Guddi has application across a range of sectors and is being trialled in criminal justice, homeless and rural and remote settings. She is also an investigator and partner on a number of research grants.


Clare publishes in industry relevant journals regarding complex disability, mental health and intellectual disability. Her research is focused on culturally safe, collaborative and viable research methodologies which privilege Indigenous people. She represents Synapse research in academic and other fora and advocates for the rights of marginalised people with complex disabilities in reports and other media



Elder in Residence and Senior Research Fellow: Aunty Jan Hammill PhD.


Aunty Jan advises on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders Research at Synapse. She is also the coordinator of the Collaboration for Alcohol Related Developmental Disorders (CARDD), formerly the Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Research Network, at the University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research.

Having a shared ancestry with the Gomeroi people of the NSW Pilliga Scrub and of the first convicts into the area, Aunty Jan's primary interest is in Indigenous health outcomes and advocacy for children and adults invisible to early diagnosis and intervention. She is an ethnographer who weaves narratives of family history of health and wellbeing into a biological framework that better illustrates the epigenetic and developmental burden placed on families. Aunty Jan has a particular interest in the neurobiology of stress, teratogenic exposures especially of alcohol, and the transgenerational implications for children.


Aunty Jan's interests have evolved from twenty five years' experience in population health research which includes a Doctor of Philosophy and Master of Tropical Health. Her doctoral study was undertaken with Cherbourg women in Queensland documenting stories of family violence and child sexual abuse.

She has presented papers nationwide, on specific biological programming issues for Indigenous people at many forums including International Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Conference in Canada and the United States. In 2008 Aunty Jan was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (AM) for services to the community through health services for Indigenous women and children and research into the consequences of in utero exposure to alcohol, tobacco and cannabis.



Post-Docoral Research Fellow: Dr Michelle McIntyre PhD.

Dr Michelle McIntyre is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at Synapse and an Adjunct Research Fellow at Griffith University. Over the last nine years, Michelle has been involved in research across a variety of areas including disability and rehabilitation, health care complexity, and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander mental health and disability.

Michelle's PhD study Understanding Families after Traumatic Brain Injury: Family processes and structures over the long-term was conferred in May 2016. The study examined the long-term experiences and adaptation processes of families following traumatic brain injury.

Michelle is continuing to pursue research around resilience and wellbeing for individuals and families following catastrophic injury. Since her PhD conferral Michelle has been involved primarily with research involving Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples, resulting in an understanding of culturally safe and respectful research approaches.

A current focus is the extent and nature of complex disability, including neurocognitive disability, in adults and young people experiencing homelessness, and those engaged with the criminal justice system.





Post-Doctoral Research Fellow: Dr Courtney Wright PhD.   


Dr Courtney Wright is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow, and holds a conjoint position at Synapse and The Hopkins Centre (Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University). Her research has focused on individuals with complex disabilities living well in the community within family and community systems. Over the last seven years, Courtney has been involved in research projects spanning a variety of contexts including disability and rehabilitation, housing for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people with complex disability (i.e., acquired brain injury, intellectual disability, and/or mental illness), Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander mental health and disability, and psychosocial adjustment following traumatic injury. Courtney's post-doctoral work with Synapse involved working with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples in Cairns to conduct a longitudinal post-occupancy evaluation of the first purpose-built housing complex in Australia for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people with brain injury. This project employed a culturally responsive research methodology to evaluate the physical and socio-cultural performance of the housing complex on tenant and staff social and emotional wellbeing.


Her research has informed policy development around the National Injury Insurance Scheme (NIIS) in Queensland, practice guidelines for inclusive housing and several Commonwealth Government Inquiry submissions. Her work has been widely published in international journals, and presented at a number of national/international conferences and industry symposiums. Courtney has a strong track record in knowledge translation with an innovative technological platform that has implications for roughly 1.4 million Australians with severe/profound disability released in June 2018.   


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