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Introduction to Child & Adolescent Firesetting

Introduction to Child & Adolescent Firesetting



Introductory presentation on youth firesetting given at the 2013 Washington Safety Summit, held in Tacoma, WA on March 14, 2013.

Introductory presentation on youth firesetting given at the 2013 Washington Safety Summit, held in Tacoma, WA on March 14, 2013.



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  • Even though each of our educational interventions is individualized to the specific family, youth and situation, I have found that these are the common factors we repeatedly address with our families.
  • Even though each of our educational interventions is individualized to the specific family, youth and situation, I have found that these are the common factors we repeatedly address with our families.

Introduction to Child & Adolescent Firesetting Introduction to Child & Adolescent Firesetting Presentation Transcript

  • Introduction to Child & Adolescent Firesetting {Lisa Van Horn WashingtonSeattle Fire Department, Fire Prevention Division Safety SummitSOS FIRES, Youth Intervention Programs 2013
  • The ProblemFire and burns are the leading causes of unintentional homeinjury death for 1 to 14 year olds, and the second leadingcause of death for children less than one. (Burn Institute, 2009)There were an estimated 13,900 child-play structure firesreported in 2002, with 210 deaths, 1,250 injuries, and $339million in direct damage. (U.S. Fire Administration, 2006)
  • The ProblemOver 50% of all arrests for arson in the United States involvejuveniles under the age of 18 (Office of Juvenile Justice andDelinquency Prevention, 2007).Of those juveniles arrested for arson, 33% were under theage of 15 (OJJDP, 2007).
  • The ProblemProperty damage from juvenile-set structure fires was $328million during 2006 (NFPA, 2009).School fires account for over $200 million loss annually.More than half are intentionally set (NFPA, 2009).
  • Common Myths & Misunderstandings The bigger the fire, the more serious the firesetting. Juveniles who set fires are pyromaniacs. Juveniles who set fires have an urge or obsession with fire or deep emotional problems. Firesetting is related to bedwetting and cruelty to animals. Firesetting is a difficult behavior to treat. Playing with fire is a normal part of a child’s development that they will grow out of (boys will be boys) Punishing or scaring juveniles will make them stop playing with fire. None of the above statements are accurate assumptions.
  • Characteristics of FiresettingGender Mostly males (>75%) Increasing percentage for females 13-17 years
  • Characteristics of FiresettingAgeAny, but spikes at: Mid-late toddlerhood (3-5)—increased cognitive curiosity, motor skill development, power struggles w/parents Early adolescence (12-15)—experimental behavior, peer influence, independence through defying authority
  • Characteristics of FiresettingFamily CharacteristicsAny, but greater likelihood of: Minimal problem-solving abilities. Lack of structure & rule enforcement in the home. Greater chance of parental discord. Higher levels of problem history (domestic violence, mental illness, substance abuse).
  • Characteristics of Firesetting Psychiatric Diagnosis (DSM-IV, APA 1994*) Firesetting may occur more often in children with:  Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)  Conduct Disorder  Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)  Disruptive Behavior Disorder NOS*Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV)American Psychiatric Association, 1994
  • A Note About TypologyNo consistent “profile” has There is considerable diversity been found of a child or among the children, and theiradolescent who sets fires. families, who are involved in It can be any child. firesetting behavior.Typologies are best viewed Typologies are not particularly as a way of framing the useful in an intervention possible motivation for program protocol. Responsefiresetting, and organizing designators of “simple” and the proper intervention “complex” may be more response. appropriate.
  • Firesetting Typologies Curiosity Expressive Delinquent Strategic Pathological
  • Curiosity FiresettingCharacteristics Often preschool and elementary age children. The most common firesetting typology All family types, ethnicity, socio-economic levels Motivation is curiosity and experimentation.
  • Curiosity FiresettingInfluencing Factors: Exposure to fire activity (caregivers may smoke, use a fireplace, etc.) Access to fire starting materials Lack of supervision Lack of structured time Lack of fire safety education Parenting abilities may be limited
  • Curiosity FiresettingBehavior exhibited: Typically use matches or lighters Burn items easily found in the home Younger children set fires in hidden locations (closet, under bed). May try to extinguish (older) or ignore (younger) the fire. Without intervention, will often repeat the behavior.
  • SeattleFire set by five yearold boy playing withnovelty lighter whilemother slept. Eightpeople displaced.
  • SeattleDouble fatalityfire by five yearold boy playingwith lighter whilemother slept.
  • SeattleFire caused by teenlighting fireworksoutside a family homedaycare.
  • Expressive FiresettingCharacteristics: All ages, but usually pre-teen or older All family types, ethnicity, socio- economic levels Motivators-psychological pain, anger, revenge, need for attention.
  • Expressive FiresettingInfluencing Factors: Limited family support and/or involvement Recent stress or crisis Access to matches/lighters Inappropriate supervision Unable to identify or express feelings in constructive manner Lack of problem solving skills
  • Expressive FiresettingBehavior exhibited: May be multiple, progressive firesetting Often have little remorse May or may not try to put the fire out May lie about or deny involvement Fires may be symbolic of the situation
  • SeattleBed fire set by youngboy assessed withcomplex firesettingbehavior.
  • SeattleHouse fire started by14 year old girl withgasoline in response tofamily situation.
  • SeattleSchool fires, seemingly minor, started by youths laterassessed as complex firesetters with significantemotional issues. Referred for psychological evaluationand mental health follow-up.
  • Delinquent FiresettingCharacteristics Usually teenaged Often carry a lighter at all times for no good reason Fire may involve accelerant/flammable liquids Commonly seen as school fires, dumpsters, fireworks
  • Delinquent FiresettingInfluencing Factors: Limited family support and/or involvement Often risk-takers or kids who complain of being bored Lack good judgment and social skills There is often peer pressure or peer involvement-- may brag about it Don’t understand the possible legal consequences.
  • School dumpster fire
  • Flammable liquid fire
  • SeattleGroup of adolescent boysshot a bottle rocket ontoneighbor’s front porch.
  • SeattlePort-a-potty fire
  • Strategic Firesetting Characteristics  Usually teenaged  May use fire to get even or to attack someone—premeditated.  Usually in trouble at home, school and work  Uncooperative, no remorse  Set to harm or destroy, often well planned and sophisticated.  Often associated with peers or gangs. May have police record.
  • SeattleIntentionally setfire on porch oftargetedhousehold.
  • SeattleStolen vehicle fire. Likelyjuvenile gang related.
  • Pathological FiresettingCharacteristics Usually teenaged Rare, with medical or neurological considerations Usually long history of firesetting and psycho-social problems Often methodical and purposeful fires May show a distinctive pattern, even ritualistic Often proud of it, and will gladly show their scars May have many fire-related materials like matches, lighters, candles, etc. Social problems, difficulty establishing relationships May present as expressive firesetter when young
  • What Works to StopFiresetting?
  • Things we know that don’t stop firesetting
  • Seattle’sInterventionModel
  • EffectiveIntervention to stop firesetting behavior
  • IDENTIFY YOUTHwho show unsafe fire behavior
  • Perform an accurateFIRE NEEDS ASSESSMENT
  • Involve a COMMUNITY NETWORKof referral sources & service providers.
  • Provide qualityFIRE SAFETY EDUCATION.
  • Conduct follow-ups to TRACK RESULTS.50 Recidivism Rate45 Assessments40353025201510 5 0 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006
  • COMMONFACTORSaddressed with fire safety education
  • Low or inaccurateFIRE KNOWLEDGE
  • Lack of FIRE SAFETY information
  • Awareness of CONSEQUENCES
  • Responsible choice-making skills
  • Appropriate for age &developmental level
  • Do-able & targetedto knowledge gaps
  • Relevant to the learnersCulturallycompetent
  • Focused onimproving fire safety
  • Provide the toolsto learn & practicefire safety
  • Lisa Van Horn Seattle.gov/firelisa.vanhorn@seattle.gov