3 On Your Side Investigates: Allegations of child abuse at a Florence daycare

Published: Jul. 17, 2023 at 6:12 PM CDT
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FLORENCE, Miss. (WLBT) - An employee at a Florence daycare is being accused of abusing children - and parents say they aren’t happy with how it was handled by management.

Nearly a dozen parents are angry and emotional over alleged abuse at Florence First Daycare, claiming not enough action was taken by the daycare to protect their children.

”It changed some of these children and they don’t know who to trust,” former employee of the Florence First Daycare, Angela Donald, said.

Security camera footage from the Florence First Daycare on Highway 49 shows children being grabbed, pushed, and more, by a teacher.

“He was snatched up and basically thrown on the floor. And they, you know, criss-crossed his legs and made him sit there. There’s video of him being snatched up by one arm, spun around in a circle off the ground,” Chris Shinstock, father of 3-year-old Noah, explained.

“She swung him around by his shirt so hard that he had a burn mark across his neck. And then, another time, she lined him up on the fence and threw rocks at him as a form of punishment,” Breanna Winn, mother of 3-year-old Hudson, said.

Rankin County Jail Records show that former employee 19-year-old Ciara Danielle Smith was arrested twice back in April for “neglect of a child” and “child abuse”.

Rankin County Jail Record - Ciara Danielle Smith
April 11, 2023
Rankin County Jail Record - Ciara Danielle Smith April 11, 2023(Rankin County Sheriff's Dept.)
Rankin County Jail Record - Ciara Danielle Smith
April 16, 2023
Rankin County Jail Record - Ciara Danielle Smith April 16, 2023(Rankin County Sheriff's Dept.)

But parents say these incidents left a long-lasting mark on their children.

“Since all of this, Mabry is now saying that she sees monsters. Anytime we pass a daycare, it’s just immediate burst of crying and just throwing a tantrum, and saying, ‘Please don’t make me go there,’” Taylor Prince, mother of 3-year-old Mabry, said.

“It’s been a couple of months and his behavior has just changed completely. He just has not been the same kid,” Winn explained.

But was there any way to stop these incidents from happening? Former employees say they tried.

“We would go into staff meetings and they said, ‘If any incident has happened with the children, you don’t bring it up to them, you bring it to us and we’ll handle it.’ Only for it to be swept under the rug,” former employee of the daycare, Allison Poff, said.

“I’ve reported it to the office staff several times. Then it got to the point where it bothered me. I really didn’t realize how long it had been because I really expected them to do more,” Donald explained.

We asked the daycare about the allegations. Their attorneys released this statement:

But the parents 3 On Your Side spoke to say they had been noticing something might be wrong for months.

“Started noticing a bunch of bumps and bruises and just unexplainable marks,” Prince explained.

“He’d come home with the cuts and bruises and different things like that. We just chalked it up to him playing,” Shinstock said.

And it was those parents going to law enforcement that eventually led to Smith’s arrest. Now they want to make sure no other children are hurt in the future.

“It’s heartbreaking and they deserve justice. They don’t have a voice. So this is the voice they’re gonna have. I’m standing up for them,” Poff said.

The Florence Police Department released this statement Sunday night regarding the daycare:

We checked the Mississippi Department of Health’s website to see if there were any reports of incidents or investigations regarding abuse at Florence First Daycare. However, nothing was found. Not even relating to the March incident.

Smith will appear in front of a municipal court judge in Florence on August 29 at 10:30 a.m.

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