Youth Set Fires
Family and Community Information:
All human behavior has meaning; but very frequently children cannot articulate what their behavior means. This can be a frustrating problem for their families and can sometimes pose a danger to their communities when a child's behavior involves unsupervised use of fire. The phrase "youth set fire behavior" refers to a child whose behavior with fire is without the supervision of the adults in their lives. When a child in our family or community is exhibiting fire setting behaviors sometimes it is easy to minimize the problem as "just a phase." This can be true but the only way to ensure that the child learns to interact with fire in a safe manner is to get them help. Contacting professionals trained in youth set fire behaviors ensures that your child will learn how to safely use fire. These professionals are experts in understanding the different meanings behind youth set fires. They can assess the many different reasons that youth set fires including:
- Crisis Motivated
- Thrill Seeking
- Firesetters with Special Needs
If you are concerned about the way that a youth in your family or community uses fire - it is your responsibility, as an adult, to get them the help that they need to use fire safely.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Why do kids set 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?
Answer: 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?
Answer: 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?
Answer: 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?
Answer: 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?
Answer: 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?
Answer: 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?
Answer: 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?
Answer: 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.
Department of Children and Families
DCF Office Contact Information
Youth Set Fires Brochure
Youth Set Fire Programs
For families needing assistance that do not live in the towns listed above please contact: