Leanne Dowse

Professor, Chair in Intellectual Disability Behaviour Support


Leanne Dowse is Professor and Chair in Intellectual Disability and Behaviour Support [IDBS] at UNSW where she has been a researcher since 1995 and an academic since 2008. She has been a scholar, practitioner, supporter and ally in the area of intellectual disability since the beginning of her professional career as a Speech Therapist in the 1980s and has been involved in the development and promotion of disability studies in Australia beginning in the 1990s. Leanne has taught social policy, social research methods, disability studies, human behavior and criminology for the past two decades.

Her role as Chair IDBS, a joint initiative of UNSW and the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (Ageing, Disability & Home Care) works to expand the body of knowledge and increase workforce capacity in the delivery of appropriate and effective services to people with an intellectual disability with complex needs including behaviours that challenge through a focus on training and education, enhanced policy and service models and targeted research. 

Leanne’s research and publications apply models of critical inquiry to the study of disability and in particular, intellectual or cognitive disability. Her work utilises a multidisciplinary approach to investigate social justice issues for people with complex needs. In particular her work addresses the intersections of disability with mental illness, acquired brain injury, homelessness, social isolation, early life disadvantage, experience of out of home care, substance misuse and violence. Her work is particularly concerned with the ways these intersect for Indigenous Australians with intellectual disability, for women with disabilities, those in the criminal justice system, and people with complex behaviour support needs.

Leanne has been and is chief investigator on a number of major Australian Research Council, NHMRC, and Federal and NSW government funded grants over the past 10 years.

Leanne is a member of the Editorial Board for Journal on Research and Practice in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

She serves as a member of the NSW Government Justice Disability Advisory Council, is a founding member of the Aboriginal Disability Justice Campaign and serves on a range of NSW and Federal government advisory bodies.

Research Areas

Intellectual disability; Disability, Gender and Violence; Complex behaviour support; Complex needs; Criminal justice;  Social research methodology; Social policy, Social justice. 

Current Research Projects

Lost in Transition: Supporting Young People with Complex Support Needs Project. An ARC Linkage Project grant with A/Prof Philip Mendes (Monash), A/Prof Pamela Snow (Latrobe), A/Prof Iva (UNSW), Dr Therese Cumming (UNSW), Dr Jung-Sook Lee (UNSW), Dr Kathleen Ellem (QUT), Dr Louisa Smith (UNSW) and Ms Amanda Jones (Berry Street, VIC) focusing on improving the lives of young people with complex support needs experiencing overlapping forms of disadvantage and exploring best practice transition supports and how to track these transitions using existing data. 

PEOPle Project: A Future Beyond the Wall: Improving Post-release Employment Outcomes for People Leaving Prison. An ARC Linkage Project grant with Prof Eileen Baldry (UNSW), David Bright (UNSW), Jesse Cale (UNSW), Jo Graffam (Deakin), Jane McGillivray (Deakin), Margaret Giles (Edith Cowan) and Andrew Day focusing on the relationship between ex-prisoners’ engagement in meaningful work; reductions in re-offending; and improvements in wellbeing.

Improving the Mental Health Outcomes of People with Intellectual Disability: An NHMRC Partnership Grant with A/Prof Julian Trollor, Prof Eric Emerson, Prof Rhoshel Lenroot, Associate Professor Karen Fisher, A/Prof Julia Johnson and A/Prof Kimberlie Dean.

Safeguarding Conversations in Planning: A NSW FaCS funded project to develop a practical resource that supports people with disability and complex support needs and their informal supporters (including family and others who assist the person) to lead a conversation about implementing a safe and sustainable plan. 

Behaviour support for people with intellectual disability  in a disability services future: A NSW FaCS funded project to develop knowledge on the issues relevant to the provision of responsive and effective behaviour support.

A Practice Guide for the use of Psychotropic Medication and Behaviour Support: A NSW FaCS funded, practitioner focussed action research project to develop a practice guide that provides clear guidelines for Behaviour Support Practitioners to guide collaborative service delivery with prescribing physicians to enable better outcomes for persons with disability who are prescribed routine and or PRN psychotropic mediation. 

A Practice guide for services to develop and implement a system for effective case review: A NSW FaCS funded, practitioner focussed, action research project to develop a practice guide for effective case review to assist service providers to implement a systemic response to  emerging or actual risk and vulnerability for people with intellectual disability and complex support needs.

Cognitive Disability and Sex Offending - with Dr Jesse Cale (UNSW): A project examining the profiles and treatment targets for individuals with cognitive disabilities and complex needs who have been charged with sex offences in order to suggest new approaches to support and intervention to prevent such offending. 

Supported decision making project, Phase 2 Evaluation: A FACS, NSW Trustee and Guardian and the Public Guardian funded project with SPRC - Kelley Johnson (UNSW), Rosemary Kayess (UNSW), Christiane Purcal (UNSW), Jane Bullen (UNSW) and Pip Hoskins (UNSW) to evaluate a supported decision making program creating a supportive infrastructure that builds a clearer, firmer pathway out of financial management so that people with disability take greater responsibility for their own financial decision-making within the legislative framework of the NSW Trustee and Guardian Act 2009.

Learning About Disability Online - with Louisa Smith (UNSW): A study exploroing the motivation and effectiveness of inclusive teaching and learning strategies and changes in student attitudes towards disability in two types of online courses about disability, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and an undergraduate course. 

Recently completed projects

Support Planning Framework Project: A NSW FACS funded project to strengthen existing good practice and provide guidance for engaging a person with complex support needs in planning.   

Indigenous Australians with Mental Health Disorders and Cognitive Disabilities in the Criminal Justice System: An ARC Linkage Project grant, with Prof Eileen Baldry (UNSW), Professor Patrick Dodson and Associate Professor Julian Trollor (UNSW). Project focuses on building a picture of the coalescence of multiple diagnoses, heightened vulnerabilities, complex support needs and simultaneous interventions for Indigenous persons. Experiences and opinions of this group and specialist support and community leaders identify appropriate conceptualisations and interventions.

Gender, Violence and Disability: Developing a methodology to explore prevalence and impact. With Dr Karen Soldatic (UNSW), Dr Jo Spangaro (UNSW) and Carolyn Frohmader (WWDA) as co-investigators.  Project focuses the spatial differentiation of violence against women with disabilities in Australia.

People with Complex Needs who are the Victims of Crime: Building evidence for responsive support. A NSW Attorney General and Justice Victims of Crime Research Fund project undertaken with A/Prof Kimberlie Dean (UNSW) focusing on the experiences of people with complex needs who are the victims of crime and exploring appropriate models of support.

Stop The Violence, Stop the Silence: Improving Service Delivery for Women with Disabilities: Funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services with Dr Karen Soldatic (UNSW) in collaboration with Women with Disabilities Australia and People with Disabilities Australia. Project focused on legislative, policy and service practice models to support women with disabilities experiencing violence, abuse and exploitation.

Young People with Disabilities in the Criminal Justice System: Leanne is Chief Investigator on a UNSW FASS Faculty Research Grant exploring patterns of involvement and frameworks of intervention with Dr Jung-Sook Lee (UNSW), Dr Iva Strnadova (UNSW) and Dr Terry Cumming (UNSW).

Policy relevance of the NDIS proposed system to disabled people from marginalized groups: UNSW FASS Collaborative Research Scheme with Dr Karen Soldatic

Selected past research projects

Mental Health Frequent Presenters at Emergency Services in NSW: NSW Department of Health Research Grant (2010/2011) with Prof Eileen Baldry (UNSW). This project identified the number and characteristics of persons who are frequent presenters to mental health, police and ambulance services, in order to allow the development of appropriate service models for this group.

Lifecourse institutional costs of homelessness for vulnerable groups: Funded by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA)/National Homelessness Research Grant (2010/11) with Prof Eileen Baldry (UNSW). Utilising merged data on a cohort of individuals with mental health, cognitive disability and complex needs including homelessness who have been in prison in NSW the project explored the lifelong costs to the person, government and community of addressing (or not) the needs of these most vulnerable homeless persons.

Researching people with problematic alcohol consumption and mental health and cognitive disabilities in the criminal justice system: Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation grant, with Prof Eileen Baldry (UNSW) (2010/11).

People with acquired brain injury in the criminal justice system in NSW: Contracted research for Brain Injury NSW, with Prof Eileen Baldry (UNSW) (2010/11).

People with Mental Health Disorders and Cognitive Disability in the Criminal Justice System: ARC Linkage research grant, with Prof Eileen Baldry and Emeritus Prof Ian Webster (2006-2009).

Investigating intellectual and cognitive disability in the criminal justice system in NSW: NSW Department of Ageing, Disability & Home Care grant with Prof Eileen Baldry(2009/10).

People with Mental Health Disorders and Cognitive Disabilities in the Criminal Justice System – Impact of Housing NSW interventions and contacts with social housing system: Contracted research for NSW Housing with Prof Eileen Baldry (2009/10)

Exploring the intersections between ageing and disability in theory, policy and practice: UNSW Faculty Research Grant with Dr Shannon McDermott (UNSW) (2009).




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