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Sheriff holds forums to educate parents as apps ensnare Volusia County kids

The Volusia County Sheriff's Office is planning a series of community forums to educate parents and guardians on online safety for children.
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The Volusia County Sheriff's Office is planning a series of community forums to educate parents and guardians on online safety for children.

Volusia County saw tragic and troublesome outcomes for kids on social media this month.

So starting this week, the Sheriff's Office is holding Youth Safety Forums to educate parents and guardians. They focus on internet danges, social media risks, human trafficking and tips for keeping children safe.

Sheriff Mike Chitwood organized the meetings after deputies say a Cocoa Beach man used the Wink app and Instagram to deceive and sexually abuse a 12-year-old girl.

And last week, the Sheriff's Office witnessed a different kind of social media danger. An 11-year-old girl in Port Orange sent officers from multiple agencies on a wild goose chase when she texted 9-1-1 that her friend had been abducted by an armed man in a van that was traveling on I-95.

The girl -- who was later handcuffed and arrested -- got the idea to prank 911 from YouTube, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Chitwood said he can't stop all the predators or hoax calls, he said. "If I could educate parents, maybe, maybe somebody doesn't get arrested. And maybe somebody doesn't get victimized or worse."

The first forum is 6 p.m. Monday at First NSB, a church in New Smyrna Beach. Four other meetings are planned at different locations throughout August.

Chitwood said members of his Child Exploitation Unit and staff from the Department of Children and Families will be there. The meetings will include question-and answer sessions.

"They're going to be able to tell parents how we do investigations," Chitwood said, "how they the parent can get into the cellphone or the iPad, see how they're hiding stuff, and really show them how they can forensically examine, for lack of a better term, their kid's social media and their digital footprint.

Here's a schedule of the meetings, which run from 6 to 7:30 p.m.:

  • Monday, July 31, First NSB – A Family Church, 200 Faulkner St., New Smyrna Beach;
  • Monday, Aug. 7, Tomoka Christian Church, 1101 E. Plymouth Ave., DeLand;
  • Wednesday, Aug. 9, Deltona City Hall, 2345 Providence Blvd., Deltona;
  • Monday, Aug. 28, DeBary City Hall, 16 Colomba Road, DeBary; and
  • Tuesday, Aug. 29, Mission San Jose of Saint Peter, 165 Emporia Road, Pierson
Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.
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