Australian Psychology Society award for Kathleen Davey

23 Feb 2022

Kathleen sits in front of a laptop on a sunny balcony.Congratulations to Autism CRC’s Kathleen Davey, who recently received the Australian Psychology Society’s inaugural Entrepreneur of the Year Award for spearheading the rapid transformation of the Secret Agent Society (SAS) Small Group Program into a sophisticated digital health system.

The SAS resilience-building programs empower children with identified social and emotional needs, such as children diagnosed with autism, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and anxiety disorders. The evidence-based approach is supported by 17 publications to date and is delivered by more than 2,500 allied health and education professionals trained across Australia and internationally. The programs have helped more than 25,000 families since 2005 when it first started as a PhD project for the program author, Dr Renae Beaumont.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Kathleen identified the need to ensure the ongoing support of families and child mental health at a time of great uncertainty. “Services all over the world have needed to adapt and innovate in the face of COVID-19, both for the benefit of the families they service and to ensure the sustainability of crucial support services during disruption and change,” said Kathleen.

The collaborative project used an advisory group of global SAS Facilitators to co-design this novel approach to group services. By uniquely applying technology together with clinical practice the digital edition opens up opportunities for services to innovate in a way that makes it easier for children and families to access. The key program is the SAS Small Group Program. This is delivered by trained SAS Facilitators, who can be either clinicians or educators, to small groups of children usually aged between eight and 12 years to diversify and strengthen social, emotional and problem-solving skills.

SAS Providers now offer the evidence-based content and program through an intuitive and engaging online platform that streamlines program delivery and participation for all users in face-to-face or telehealth sessions. The digital edition offers an innovatively designed single platform, improved reporting, and greater accessibility, all whilst engaging children in a fun espionage-themed process.

Heather Hall, a Clinical Psychologist from the Children's Hospital Los Angeles and Senior SAS Facilitator has providing the SAS program for nine years. “This transition from a traditional intervention with manuals, questionnaires, and tangibles for the children to an entirely digital platform that not only includes the previous evidence-based aspects of the program, but enhances the experiences of the children, families, teachers, and group leaders involved, was an enormous undertaking,” said Heather.

The Children’s Hospital Los Angeles utilises SAS Small Group to serve a multi-cultural urban community mental health program, but SAS has been implemented in a number of different settings including schools, private clinics and specialist autism services. The digital version has expanded the opportunities for children in rural and other challenging locations to benefit from the program.

Kathleen is excited for the future of SAS delivery and the opportunity to help even more families. “We’ve had to step away from how we’ve ‘always done things’, and embrace change and innovation. I hope that SAS can be an example of integrating clinician-led services with technology to not replace, but enhance, our services – and not only for stability during the pandemic, but long-term.” 

Find out more about the SAS Small group program

APS Psychology Entrepreneur of the Year Award