Juvenile Firesetters

John Fogelsanger Incendiary Fire Analysis and Investigation August 31, 2010 Don West Throughout the United States, there is an increasing problem with juveniles starting fires, and several communities have started intervention policies to help combat this problem. The Federal Bureau of Investigations has reported the crime that is committed by juveniles under the age of eighteen is arson, since 1996, approximately half of all the arson arrests were juveniles under the age of eighteen. Per author, G.

Scott Burlin a questionnaire was presented to 20 juvenile male fire setters at the Cornell Abraxas Youth Fire Setter Program in South Mountain, Pennsylvania. This facility has the capability of having 36 juveniles to reside there for treatment for their severe history of setting fires. The information collected from this questionnaire shows that some of the juveniles started setting fires at the early age of one. When the juveniles were asked when they started setting fires 11 of the 20 stated that they started before they were 10 years old proving that this criminal behavior starts early in life.

Numerous youths admitted to setting over 500 fires. They explained that anger was the reason they gave, for this type of juvenile behavior. They also answer that they came from a single parent family. In my research there has been a constant four different categories of juvenile firesetters identified. “The four categories are curiosity firesetter, crisis firesetter, juvenile delinquent firesetter, and pathological or mentally disturbed firesetter.

These juveniles can be further classified as little risk, some risk or definite risk for future fire setting behaviors (Burlin 2007)”. The best way society can intervene and discriminate the behavior that has been known to be deadly is in the ability of society to identify this behavior. There are numerous reasons that juveniles set fires. Society has the challenging duty to take care of these kids. In most of the cases, the child will be sent to a juvenile detention, while others only need to be educated in fire safety.

Some people may view juvenile arson as a crime against property, but most investigators believe that it is a violent crime against people and needs to be addressed. According G. Scott Burlin the author of An examination of Juvenile Firesetting and the Reasons Kids Set Fires, that in 2002 children intentionally set over 68,000 fires, resulting in 630 deaths and 2030 fire injuries. A large number of young juveniles continue to start fires long after they have been convicted of their first arson charge in the juvenile court system, and even into their adulthood.

Because of these cases involving fire, the communities believe that the problem should be handled by the fire departments. The reason most juvenile firesetters continue to set fires is that they are motivated by complex psychological dynamics; society often considers juvenile firesetting an issue that mental health professionals are needed to handle the problem. Because it is a crime of arson, most people believe that the police or law enforcement agencies need to be involved with the problem.

Because the problem of arson is a complex problem, Fire Departments, Law enforcement, and licensed mental health professionals should all be involved and working together, Another solution that was discussed in the research was that the parents need to be responsible and held accountable by society for the actions of their children. (Zipper & Wilcox, 2005). Early identification of juveniles that are at risk of becoming a juvenile fire setter is the first step in the elimination of the problem.

However early identification cannot be completed until they can understand the issues that causes a child to start setting fires, and this understanding is also the best way that these kids can be treated and rehabilitated. In an article for Psychology Today in 1985, author Wayne Wooden outlined four distinct categories that each juvenile firesetters can be classified in. His four categories are curious, problem ridden, delinquent and mentally disturbed. Wooden first category is curious firesetters. In this category, e describes the curious fire setter as not intentionally setting the fire by as a accident because they were playing with matches or a lighter and accidentally started a fire. There is usually no close parent supervision of these children, and these children have not had any formal education in fire safety. Most of the children that are in this category are males below the age of ten Wooden’s second group is the problem-ridden firesetters. The children in this category are children that are seeking the attention of their parents. Most of all juvenile firesetters can be classified into this category.

The children in this group are usally children that have no or little self-esteem, cannot solve problems by themselves, and have little social interaction with other (Wilcox & Zipper, 2005). Because of other emotional problems, physical stress that the child is having difficulty with, it is believed that this action of starting fires is a relief of those stressors, or attraction attention to them to get help to solve the problems that they are experiencing. Allot of the fire that are set in this group are started near or in there house.

An example that the Burlin used was a fire they set in their bedroom burning their parents closes. Psychologists believe that since these children are burning there bed suggests that the child is upset with their life, because it is believed that the bed represents a warm and safe place. (Wooden, 1985). Approximately 14 percent of juvenile firesetters have been classified as delinquent youths. The juveniles in this group are normally have control problems and do not like to follow orders so they are protesting against authority. These juveniles are between the ages of 10 to 17.

The largest amount of these juveniles do not have any type of supervision from their parents, are usually hang out in groups, and are pressured into starting fires from their peers. These juveniles often have a history of antisocial behavior and a previous history of starting fires. Usually are already known by the local police and law enforcement officers, and have previous experienced the juvenile justice system. Just like the problem-ridden children, the delinquent juveniles start their fires as a cry for help, or to get a response to deal with stress.

Sometimes activities are to add excitement to their boredom, and are random acts of vandalism. Usually, these juvenile fire setters are starting their fire in safe places like abandoned buildings, old sheds or dumpsters. Unlike other juvenile crimes, arson is disproportionally a white middle class activity. There appears to be several possible explanations per Roy Spouse author of Juvenile Firesetter – Americas Troubled Youth. First, he believes that the juvenile comes from single family households in poor ethnic communities appear to differ from a single parent household in a middle class.

Specifically single parents do not have an extensive family to look after the child while the parent is at work. Secondly and perhaps, more important, middle class children may be socialized to deal with their anger differently. Passivity and control are the middle class values, and as a result, the middle class children often resort to passive aggressive ways, they challenge those who threaten them but not directly. Overwhelmingly, firesetters come from troubled families.

Whatever the exact nature of their respective problems is due to family instability, problem parent-child interaction, absent fathers’ parental pathology, or overindulgent and inconsistent mothers, the fact is clear that these juveniles are at rick because of family disturbances. Early identification and intervention of the youth that are at risk, is the purpose of any good juvenile firesetter program. For the juvenile program to be successful, it needs to be an important part to the community and needs the support of the community. This program is designed to prevent and control firesetting and arson related fires activities, Dr.

Jessica Gaynor states that there are five essential components of juvenile firesetter programs; identification, assignment evaluation, education, referral, and follow-up. In addition, there needs to be community service, restitution and counseling to enhance the program. “The community needs to take the lead in building a comprehensive strategy to combat the juvenile firesetting and arson. The centerpiece of this approach is a continuum of care designed to provide a swift, certain, and consistent intervention for all youth (Gaynor, 1997, p. 31)”. The chances of successful intervention increase drastically with early identification.

Early identification is defined in several ways: early can be defined by the child’s history that the child is not involved with firesetting. Early identification of emerging psychological or social conflicts is the second way of defining early identification. Counselor interrupting the beginning pattern of antisocial behavior that can lead the child to a criminal history later is the third way that early identification is defined. The second phase of a program per Gaynor is assignment, to be an effective assessment to the juvenile firesetter program involves systematic screening procedures and a formal intake process.

The intake process is designed to provide a secure and standard pathway through the juvenile firesetter and their families. The main objective of evaluating the juvenile firesetter program is the ability to understand why the juveniles are starting the fires, and to evaluate weather a child will start another fire in the future. There are three different classifications the determine the risk of a child starting another fire. The three classifications are little, definite, and extreme. Once the risk assessment is completed for the child and the family, the next step is to recommend the appropriate intervention.

The recommended intervention strategy for these cases is to have the child to attend a formal fire safety education program; in addition, three in ten cases are likely to be classified as definite risk. Most children also require a referral to receive additional treatment. The juvenile can be referred to various professionals to treat different problems, a mental health specialist, law enforcement, social services and appear before a juvenile court. Most of the time juvenile firesetters are referred to a psychologist for professional mental health.

The parents need to be responsible and understand the need of obtaining the provided help. If the juvenile and parent fail to seek the recommended treatment they will be held responsible for their actions. When the referral is ordered by the court system, and not completed the court will impose harsher penalties

REFERENCES Bradner, J. (2003) A Comparative Analysis of a Juvenile Firesetter Intervention Program Downloaded from www. usfa. dhs. gov on August 2, 2010. Burlin, G. Scott (2007) An Examination of Juvenile Firesetting and the Reasons that Kids Set Fires. Gayor, J (1997) Juvenile Firesetter Intervention Hand Book Downloaded from www. usfa. dhs. gov on August 5, 2010. Klingele, M. (2005) An analysis of the juvenile firesetter program in the Denton Fire Department downloaded www. usfa. dhs. gov on August 3, 2010 Sprouse, Roy (1993) Juvenile Firesetter – Americas Troubled Youth. Wooden, W. S. (1985). The Flames of Youth. Psychology Today, 19, 22-24. Zipper, P. , & Wilcox, D. K. (2005, April). Juvenile arson: the importance of early intervention. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 74, (4).

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