Free resources to help struggling parents

8:40 PM, May 4, 2012   |    comments
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Lakeland, Florida - All four of Sheila Smith's children are staying with family members after Winter Haven police say the 29 year-old mother admitted to beating her four year-old son with a belt to punish him for jumping on a bed.

Detectives say the beating left welts and bruises on her son's face, arms and legs. 

They say as the child cried himself to sleep, the mother told them she left to go to the store. 

Her child was found wandering around the Villa's of Lake Smart apartment complex on Vista Del Lago in Winter Haven.

Someone at the apartment complex called 911. He was taken to the hospital. 

Officials say while this child is going to be okay physically, a seven-week-old baby boy did not survive.

Pasco County Sheriff's deputies say the seven-week-old boy's mother, 18 year-old, Chekayla Dampier, punched her son in the chest and stomach. 

She's accused of ultimately holding him under scalding hot water last month. The burns were so severe that he later died.


Friday afternoon dozens of blue and silver pinwheels could be seen underneath a tree outside the Heartland for Children agency at 1239 E. Main Street in Bartow.

The pinwheels are from Child Abuse Prevention month in April and they represent an effort to prevent child abuse by putting children first and supplying the resources parents need to cope.

Kimberly Daugherty the Chief Community Relations Officer says, "Parenting is hard work for sure." 

Daugherty works for the non-profit agency serving Polk, Hardee and Highlands Counties. Their goal is to prevent child abuse by providing not only social connections, but resources, which is something they're able to do by working with local churches and synagogues.

Theresa Reiter is the Director of the Children's Ministry at First United Methodist Church , 72 Lake Morton Drive in Lakeland. "Here at First United Methodist our love is about children. We will use any resource available to us."

Reiter, who is a mother, is also the Director of the Children's Ministry. She says their church is a place you can go with people, "who don't judge you and love you how you are and love your children no matter how they are. We love families of all kinds, whether it be a grandparent raising a child - single parents - we have so many support systems here."

At First United Methodist they have a neighborhood ministry where they offer free afterschool and free child care in the summer for needy families.  

They also have free parenting and infant massage classes. The massages are meant to calm a crying baby.

If you parent children and you need help, no matter where you live in Florida, you can call a special hotline for help. 1-800 FLA-LOVE. Daugherty says someone will answer your call 24 hours a day 7 days a week. She says you can just talk, or they can put you in contact with resources in your community.

Daugherty says if you suspect a child is being abused call at 1-800-96ABUSE (1-800-962-2873). 

You can remain anonymous.


Tammie Fields, 10 News

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