Author urges people in Kent to lend their support

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Queen of British crime writing Martina Cole has thrown her weight behind a £1 million fundraising drive to help vulnerable children across the county.

The best-selling author, who lives in Sevenoaks, gave her support to the NSPCC’s Forever Smiles appeal which will fund services aimed at supporting looked-after children and young people at risk of harm.

Last year, there were 1,821 children in Kent and Medway subject to a child protection plan because they were considered at risk of abuse. Some 532 were aged four and under.

The 53-year-old writer, who has become an international phenomenon through her gritty novels which give an insight into the criminal underworld and its victims, says money raised through the campaign will support these children.

“I’m delighted to be supporting the NSPCC’s Forever Smiles appeal and I’m calling on people in Kent to get behind this fantastic cause,” she said.

“Money raised by the appeal will help protect some of the most vulnerable children and young people in the county and give them the help and support they need to change their lives for the better.”

The appeal was launched last Thursday at the NSPCC’s service centre in Gillingham.

The charity has developed the centre to serve the whole county, offering bespoke support designed specifically for children in the area.

Interim service manager, Carole Austin, said the funds will help pay for therapeutic counselling as well as support for sexual abuse victims and their families.

“We want to provide a specific service for vulnerable children and young people in the county,” she said.

“There are three parts; the first is connecting with children in care, allowing them to set the agenda and talk to us about what they are worried about; if they are being bullied, why they are in care, why they can’t see their families. It allows them to talk about what they want, where they want; it’s very empowering for them.

“Secondly, we offer therapy to help children and young people who have been sexually abused. We also work with their carer or parents to highlight signs of abuse or grooming behaviour. It helps families deal with what is a very traumatic situation.

“Sexual abuse is under-reported. That’s not specific to Kent, that’s everywhere. As we’ve seen with the Jimmy Savile case, we don’t see the signs or people ignore the signs. Our therapists know what to look for.

“Thirdly is work to help children in care who have experienced maltreatment or abuse. We look at whether they can return home and whether there is a risk of abuse reoccurring.

“We’re looking much more specifically at what the challenges are in the area. It was broader support before.

“This county has a high level of vulnerable families and looked-after children, areas of poverty, domestic violence, alcohol misuse, mental health issues – we assess all this to see how we can deliver the service.”

The centre costs £500,000 a year to run.

Forever Smiles looks to raise £1m to cover costs over two years.

Head of region for community fundraising, Rupa-Dey Amin, said the NSPCC relies mainly on donations.

“We really need the generosity of our supporters, no matter how big or small,” she said. “It’s brilliant Martina Cole’s involved. She’s one of our supporters and she lives in the area. She’s been very kind and offered to help raise awareness.

“Anyone can get involved in raising money, regardless of whether you’re an individual, business or a group of friends.”

People wishing to support the Forever Smiles appeal can contact the fundraising team on 01293 651840, foreversmiles@nspcc.org.uk.

Martina Cole shot to fame over the last two decades with her gritty and often disturbing novels, which tackle subjects such as domestic violence and child abuse.

They focus on criminal depravity, involving shocking violence, abuse, prostitution and drug-taking.

Her books are the most frequently requested in prison libraries - and the most commonly stolen.

Two of her novels, Dangerous Lady and The Jump, were adapted for ITV, pulling in 10 million viewers and The Take, starring actor Tom Hardy, was screened on Sky One to widespread critical acclaim.

Speaking to KoS in the past about her books, the mother-of-two said: “Everyone sees those short pieces in the papers like ‘a woman was found dead last night’ but you never find out what happened to them.

“I write about what could’ve happened to them. Everybody can name a serial killer but no one can name the victims. In my books I’m speaking for the victims.”

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