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Debating and Coronavirus

Due to the coronavirus outbreak the planned Debate-Ed debating competition will not be taking place this March.

I am conscious, however, that parents will soon be trying to find activities for their children to do whilst they are out of school. Parents may want to consider whether their children would enjoy using this time to practice and develop their debating skills. This could involve debating against friends (perhaps via lively email debates), against their siblings or even the pets (very receptive audience, rarely heckle).

Children could be encouraged to research any or all of the topics below and to come up with some arguments for and against. They could then practice how they would deliver a persuasive and engaging speech, keeping in mind the importance of fully explaining their points, backing these up with examples/evidence and linking their points into the overall debates.

I have suggested some potential topics below, but feel free to expand on this list or tailor it to your child’s specific interests.

Younger Students/Lighter Topics

  • Who is their favourite character in a specific book/tv show/film. Why is that character the best?

  • Who would win in a fight out of two characters? You could restrict this to characters the children are used to thinking of in the same context (Iron Man vs Captain America for instance) or expand it out to help them think innovatively about how different character’s abilities might benefit them e.g. Harry Potter vs the Incredible Hulk.

  • Should violent video games be banned?

  • Should school uniform be banned?

  • Should zoos be banned?

  • Should all reality TV be banned?

More Mature Students

  • Should we ban cosmetic surgery?

  • Should testing on animals for medical purposes be allowed?

  • Should advertising of unhealthy food be banned?

  • Should celebrities who break the law receive harsher sentences?

  • Should the royal family be banned?

  • Should everyone become a vegan?

  • Should 16 year olds be allowed to vote?

Reviews in Failure to Disclose Evidence

The Crown Prosecution Service has confirmed that an urgent review is going to be carried out in respect of all current rape and serious sexual assault cases, following the recent collapse of some cases where there had been failures in the disclosure of evidence.

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The police and prosecution have an ongoing duty to disclose evidence that might either assist the defence case or undermine the prosecution case but this has not been happening, risking possible miscarriages of justice.  

The recent collapse of several rape cases has heightened concerns that evidence is not being disclosed early enough and that rules are not being followed. I find this is consistent with my own daily experiences in the criminal justice system.

If anybody has any concerns regarding an ongoing case, or they feel that somebody they know may have been the victim of a possible miscarriage of justice, (particularly due to non-disclosure issues) then please do not hesitate to contact myself or one of our expert team for further advice.

Mental Health, Pain and Reality

‘Of course it is happening inside your head Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?’

This is one of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite book series. As one might expect from an author who has spoken at length about her own struggles with mental health, it offers insight into one of the biggest challenges faced by those who suffer from mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, chronic pain and fatigue, which originate in or are exacerbated by the mind.

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Recognise the signs

Many seem to believe that things that happen ‘inside your head’ are somehow less real than those that occur outside the head. As a result of this there is an unfortunate narrative that suggests those who suffer from issues such as depression and anxiety should really be able to just shake it off. They should be able to ‘turn that frown upside down’ if they only try.

Some of our own clients also face these challenges. Whether they originate from a psychological condition or from an acquired brain injury managing a mental health condition is not easy and I know this from my own interactions with them. Just because an injury or condition has no external symptoms doesn’t mean that it is somehow less challenging.

Feeling pain

An example of this is pain. Many people feel pain for all kinds of reasons during their lifetime, including both emotional and physical pain. There are some situations that are globally acknowledged to be painful, such as, having your leg cut off or losing a loved one. There are also outward signs that someone is in pain (screaming, crying etc), but again it can be hard for an observer to really discern how much pain the person is in.

I, for instance, have been known to scream if I stub my toe. It is very painful to me but I doubt others would make the same fuss. Equally, I know some people who can be incredibly stoic and reserved when they are in pain. We all react differently and the outward signs of pain, depression or emotional disturbance are not always obvious to those around us. Everyone who is in pain (whether physical or emotional) relies on others to recognise the signs that they are in pain, and also to believe them when they report how much pain they are in.

Acceptance is positive

It is not just outsiders that can disregard symptoms which have originated in, or are worsened by, the mind. Sometimes the sufferers themselves can be very resistant to the notion their symptoms may originate from this source. They worry that if this were to be the case then they could be told their depression, their pain, their tiredness etc is not real and simply something they are making up.

Often the act of recognising the psychological element of a condition can be extremely helpful. This enables the development of strategies which can then be employed to help reduce the symptoms. For instance, if you understand that stress is worsening your chronic pain condition then you can take steps to reduce stress as much as possible. Similarly if you know you are not just sad but are actually suffering from clinical depression, then this might motivate you to seek therapy which could ultimately lead to a good recovery.

The future

It is very encouraging that more people seem happy to talk about mental health, and there appears to be a growing acknowledgement that seeking support when you need it is a sign of strength rather than an admission of weakness. As characterised by recent comments from Prince Harry about his own battles with mental health. I hope this increasing awareness will continue, so that we can work towards a culture where no one will be scared to reveal they need support for fear they may be told they just need to get over it.

However, at the same time as we are experiencing the start of a culture shift, we are seeing a huge lack of support for Mental Health Services. Official figures have revealed that between 2010 and 2015, NHS spending on children’s mental health services fell by nearly £50 million.

A recent survey carried out by the Association of Child Psychotherapists, British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy, British Psychoanalytic Council and the UK Council for Psychotherapy revealed concerning results with 84% of the 3,000 counsellors, therapists and psychoanalysts claiming it has become more difficult for children to access the help they need, with more severe levels of illness required before help can be accessed.

Worryingly 67% said that waiting times had increased over the last five years and 33% say their workplace was facing downsizing or closure.

I sincerely hope, that going forward, the government will put reorganising the mental health provision in the UK as a high priority.

SARDA Wales' October Training

SARDA Wales’ October training weekend got off to an exciting start with an unlikely and unwilling celebrity in our midst! October is always the pre-assessment weekend, where the dogs and handlers due to be assessed in November are put through their final paces, any little issues identified and tweaked and a variety of possible terrains covered.

Ben goes AWOL

However, a few days earlier Trainee Search Dog Ben had decided to branch out on his own, during a walk on Snowdon with his handler’s friend, and he went missing. Thanks to the power of social media little Ben’s story was put out there and in the first six hours after the news broke, was shared and liked more than 100,000 times on Facebook!!

It was a filthy night of high winds and sideways rain and it’s probably fair to say none of us slept a wink, worrying about him. Members of local Mountain Rescue Teams went out in awful weather to search for him – he’s very used to being outside in all sorts and is a rugsy-tugsy little collie but those conditions, together with the fear he must have felt, made it a very worrying time for all concerned.

Ben is found!

I think the wind speed became a gust the next morning, therefore, when we all breathed a collective sigh of relief at the news he had been found. Kes, the Team vet, had gone for an early run on Snowdon and to see if she could find any sign of him and, to everyone’s immense joy she heard Ben (cold and hungry but otherwise not too shaken by his ordeal) whimpering at the outflow of Llyn Glaslyn, partway up Snowdon. She coaxed him towards her (with cat treats!) and carried him down the mountain to be reunited with his delighted handler, Alex.

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Plans to spend our training weekend searching for him were abandoned, designs for flyers ditched and we got down to the job in hand of getting Ben and the other dogs ready for assessment in November.

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I also had a lovely morning meeting one of our little puppy friends from the Isle of Man, Cody, whose dad Matt is training to be a search dog for the Manx team. After a late night and an early morning nothing quite beats excited wet nose snuggles from a blue merle puppy!

Training starts

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Down to business and I was sent to the beach at Dinas Dinlle to body for the lowland search dogs, Izzy, Matt and Ben.

We started with a short search for Ben just to make sure that he wasn’t shaken by his ordeal earlier in the week and that he was happy to range away from his handler, luckily there was no cause for concern and he found me very quickly in the long grass.

After that a party of us were sent to disperse around the dunes, with some entertaining fence-climbing acrobatics on the way (what looks like a simple hop over a fence becomes a different story when you have a fully loaded rucksack on your back – and an audience!), I found a lovely spot down near the edge of a beach, dug down into a drumlin where there was a nice sheltered stretch of sand for a snooze, it was dry enough to get my book out and I had the waves whispering in my ears, a superb view of the Search & Rescue helicopter base nearby and I could watch them training.

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However, it was not the day to find out that the insulation on your flask has broken and your lovely hot tea, prepared two hours earlier, is now tepid water. That’s never a good start to five hours of lying in the same spot, but thankfully my book was absorbing and my rucksack full of tasty provisions.

Found by the search dogs

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First in to find me was Trainee Search Dog Matt who struck on my scent from a couple of hundred yards away and gave my ears a thorough lick before returning to his handler to indicate the find and bring him back to me. Matt loves a good game of tug as his reward and demonstrated his strength by catching me unawares and pulling me along the ground on my stomach by a short piece of rope, oblivious to any sense of decorum!

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Having got the sand out of my top and dusted myself down I snuggled back into my sleeping bag with my book, for a brief rest before Search Dog Izzy found me. I body for Izzy a good deal and she’s an absolute livewire, seemingly impossible to tire out although I had a good go with her tennis ball which she chased for a good five minutes before she realised she had “de-squeaked” it (RIP, tennis ball!)

My final “knight in furry armour” was Trainee Search Dog Ben who seemed to have put all his adventure behind him and was ranging freely across the dunes, locating bodies. By now the wind had picked up and it was starting to rain so I retreated deep into my bivvy bag. This didn’t faze Ben at all, he struck on my scent from across the dunes and burrowed deep into the top of my bivvy bag to check he had found me, before racing back to Alex and barking to bring him back to me, having to return to him three times and re-locate me on each occasion.

Back to the control point

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After a good game of tug and chase Ben was quite happy to settle down for a brief cuddle with me before setting off to find his final body, and I was asked to head back up to the “control” point to meet the other handlers and assessors from where we watched Alex and Ben search the rest of their area, (whilst each silently planning a more graceful return over the fence on the way back – I didn’t succeed with any more grace or finesse than the first time but am lucky to be surrounded by chivalrous types!), back for a debrief and a journey home in the growing gloom along the dramatic coastline as darkness fell.

Dogs on social media!

Some of our dogs now have their own Facebook pages (yes, search dogs are so clever they can even use smartphones and remember passwords!) so if you’d like to know more please friend request them and keep up to date with their exploits:

Matt- The Search and Rescue Dog
Izzy Searchdog Sherlock
Sardog Izzy

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Ginger, the trailing dog, also keeps us entertained with his photos and little stories on Twitter @gingegsd and loves to make new friends, so give him a follow and some likes!

Latest News

14 Sep 2018

SARDA Wales' October Training

SARDA Wales’ October training weekend got off to an exciting start with an unlikely and unwilling celebrity in ...

Read More