Youth Set Fires
Family and Community Information:
What is Youth Set Fire?
Dr. Robert Stadolnik writes in "Drawn to the Flame: Assessment and Treatment of Juvenile Fire Setting Behavior:"
Children and adolescents are responsible, either intentionally or accidentally, for an alarmingly high percentage of the tremendous fire problem that exists in the United States. Their firesetting behavior accounts for nearly half of all structure fires along with a major portion of the thousands of fire fatalities and severe burn injuries that occur each year.
Juvenile Fire Setting (now referred to as Youth Set Fires) is an often complex and inherently dangerous behavior that involves a diverse population of children who display a heterogeneous set of emotional, behavioral, and environmental characteristics. Successful intervention with firesetting behavior requires the ability to coordinate a multidisciplinary array of services-including mental health treatment - that addresses the often unique and complicated needs of each child or adolescent.
Many states have struggled to implement and sustain programs to consistently address the ongoing problem of children and the misuse of fire. Lack of funding, change in personnel and competing priorities have impacted Youth Set Fire Programs across the nation.
The Connecticut Youth Set Fire Statewide Steering Committee believes combining resources and personnel between Fire Service, Mental Health, Courts and other stakeholders will improve our ability to develop programs that can not only address the issue but withstand infrastructure changes.
Each program is designed for the individual youth involved and the intent and motivation of the fire. Basic fire education is at times offered alone, but often the child and family require support from mental health professionals or the legal system to address the firesetting behaviors. The length of the program, interventions offered and who is involved is carefully assessed to determine the best approach.
The Statewide committee has designed a statewide Pilot Program informed by the Fire and Life Safety Educator Training Manual under Standard 1035. The Standard identifies the minimum job performance and administrative requirements needed to offer an effective and successful Youth Firesetting Program. Each Pilot Program will be able to articulate details about their own program based on their resources, areas of expertise and needs within their communities. Once programs are established we will include their program description on the website and work with them to integrate the other components.
Go to National Fire Protection Association Pilot Program for additional information.
Question: Why do kids light fires?
Answer: Children misuse fire for many different reasons, the most common reason is curiosity. Often adults do not address this behavior believing the child is just "playing" with fire. Children also use fire as a "cry for help" or with intent to destroy property or harm someone. Children are often fascinated with fire and feel they can control fire without knowing the consequences of misusing fire. It is very important children are taught about fire safety and the consequences of the misuse of fire.
Question: What do I do if I know a child has started a fire?
Every event where fire is misused should be taken seriously and the behavior should be addressed. Basic education about safety is always available through the local fire department. If a child has misused fire repeatedly or the fire behavior is used for purposes to harm someone or something or to destroy property professional help should be sought immediately.
Question: Who is considered a fire starter?
Fire is a tool and not a toy and anyone starting fire without the proper education on how to handle fire could start a fire with devastating effects. Youth Set Fire Prevention and Intervention Programs address firesetting behaviors on every level. The intervention depends o the intent and motivation of why the fire was set and is tailored to the needs of the child, the family and the environment in which that child lives.
Question: As a family member/caretaker how can I get help for my child? What is my responsibility?
Families should seek out their local Fire Departments to ask for assistance. They can provide fire and life safety education for children in the school systems and can provide basic information about fire safety. If a child is using fire repeatedly or with the intent to destroy property, hurt others or recently displays they are struggling with other high risk behaviors then advice should be sought from any of the following professionals:
- Family Pediatrician
- Local Therapists
- Programs offering Youth Set Fire Interventions
- Youth Set Fire Programs
- School Counselors
Question: Who can be charged with Arson or related firesetting charges?
The Juvenile Court has jurisdiction over persons who commit criminal acts prior to their 18th birthday. Whether a charge is classified as a felony or a misdemeanor doesn't have the same significance for Juvenile Court as it does in the Adult Court. The more significant difference is whether the charge is classified as a Serious Juvenile Offense (SJO) or not. The maximum commitment for a conviction for an SJO is four years. For all other charges, it is 18 months. Either commitment may be extended for another 18 months. All delinquency commitments end on the person's 20th birthday, regardless of how much time is left on the commitment.
Question: If I report my child's firesetting can my child get in trouble?
If a child commits a crime there is a possibility of being charged for that crime. Firesetting behavior, like many other high risk behaviors should be taken seriously. By reporting the behavior you and your child have the opportunity to get the help you need from a qualified professional.
Question: What happens when a child is referred to a Youth Set Fire Program?
You will meet with someone from the program to provide intake information. Then the youth and family will go through a screening process which will collect background information on both youth and family. Once complete, someone from the program will meet you to discuss the information collected and provide a plan to best handle your specific needs.
Question: Is there a fee for a Youth Set Fire Program?
Each program has its own policies regarding fees. Programs listed below do not charge a fee.
Question: How can we learn more about the issue of Youth Set Fires?
Training is available for community based programs including treatment providers, schools physicians or family organizations. If you are interested in learning more about why children misuse fire and what can be done please contact Ann Adams.
- DCF Office Contact Information
- Ombudsman Office (Complaint Department)
- Ombudsman Office Brochure
- Ombudsman Office Brochure (Español)
- Mandated Reporting
- Youth Set Fires Brochure (Español)
For families needing assistance that do not live in the towns listed above please contact:
Coordinator of Juvenile Firesetting Program
Connecticut Fire Academy
Ann Adams, LMSW
Connecticut Department of Children and Families