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(p. 1) The Significance of the Problem 

(p. 1) The Significance of the Problem
(p. 1) The Significance of the Problem

David J. Kolko

and Eric M. Vernberg

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date: 21 September 2017

Scope and Severity

Firesetting by children or youth is a common and costly problem that has been found responsible for significant individual and societal consequences. By firesetting, we mean the unsanctioned use of fire that results in the burning of material, property, or a person. In some reports, children playing with fire may include actual firesetting behavior or related behaviors, such as playing with matches or lighters, which may not result in any consumption of materials or damages. Nearly 15 years ago, Hardesty and Gayton (2002) reported several statistics based on data from the National Fire Incident Reporting System to illustrate the breadth of the problem of children misusing fire. In 1997, children playing with fire started 65,000 fires that caused 284 civilian deaths and 2,158 civilian injuries. In 1993–1997, 86.3% of fatal victims of child-set fires were children between 0 and 17 years of age. In terms of FBI statistics, juvenile fire setters accounted for 52% of all arson arrests in 1998 and 45% of all arson offenses solved by arrest. In addition, 34.6% of all persons arrested for arson in 1998 were under 15 years of age, and 5.7% were under 10 years of age. Finally, arson had the highest rate of juvenile involvement in the FBI crime index. Such findings indicate that many child injuries and deaths are directly related to children playing with fire.

More recent data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for the period from 2005 to 2009 indicate that children were responsible for an average of 56,300 fires causing 110 civilian deaths, 880 (p. 2) civilian injuries, and $286 million in direct property damage per year (National Fire Protection Association, 2011). FBI statistics reported that nearly half (46%) of arson arrests between 2005 and 2006 were juveniles and nearly half of these were under 16 years of age. A total of 84% of the fires coded as “children playing” were set by children under the age of 10.

The numbers show continued improvement for the latest time period reported by the NFPA, namely, 2007–2011 (Campbell, 2014). Children set an average of 49,300 fires, caused 80 deaths and 860 injuries, and caused property damages estimated at $235 million per year. Structure fires were common (23% of all fires) and resulted in the most damages. In terms of the methods used, most were lighters (52%), followed by matches (18%), and candles (5%). Most fires were set in the bedroom (39%). Children less than 6 years of age often set home fires (43% of all home fires), whereas older children (10–12) more often set outside fires (39% of outside fires). In terms of arson arrests (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2013), 27.9% of all arrests were for arson; this rate remains the highest juvenile rate for any crime. These data suggest that the incidence of juvenile firesetting has declined in the past decade; however, firesetting and arson among children and youth remain serious national health and social problems.

A few surveys of children or adolescents conducted over the past three decades provide an indication of the prevalence of fireplay and firesetting (Cole et al., 1983; Cotterall, McPhee, & Plecas, 1999; Kolko & Kazdin, 1988b; Terjestam & Ryden, 1996). School surveys generally report modest to high rates of self-reported firesetting during the past year for various cities including Rochester, NY (14% past year; 38% lifetime rate), Surrey, British Columbia (51%–62% for males and females), and Lund, Sweden (51%–62% for males and females). A survey of school children in community and clinic settings in Pittsburgh, PA (6–13 yrs) reported firesetting rates of 19% for outpatients and 35% for inpatients.

A recent report by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services described a uniform assessment process at entry into state custody using a trauma-informed version of the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths tool (Lyons, McClelland, & Jordan, 2010). Based on information from these assessments, the authors reported an estimated prevalence rate of firesetting of 1.35% among 4,155 children and youth entering state custody. The rate for children and youth ages 10 years and (p. 3) older was 3.5%. The rate was higher for boys than girls but there was no relationship to racial background.

Characteristics of Children’s Firesetting Incidents

We have learned some details of children’s firesetting incidents based on studies that use structured interviews. Parents completed the Fire Incident Analysis to document parameters of their children’s most serious incidents (Kolko & Kazdin, 1991b). Firesetters were classified as high and low on each of two primary motives (Curiosity, Anger). Heightened curiosity was associated with greater psychopathology, past fire involvement, and fire involvement 2 years later, whereas heightened anger was associated with behavior problems and later matchplay. Children from the same study completed the Fire Incident Analysis for Children (Kolko & Kazdin, 1994). The children acknowledged having access to incendiaries, limited remorse, limited parental consequences, being curious, and having fun. Four fire characteristics predicted their overall severity of involvement in fire at follow-up (i.e., fire was out of home, acknowledgement of being likely to set another fire, a neutral/positive reaction to the fire, no parental response to the fire).

Individual and Family Characteristics and Correlates

Standardized instruments have been developed to operationalize several potential fire-specific risk factors for firesetting, one for parents (the Firesetting Risk Inventory or FRI; Kolko & Kazdin, 1989a) and one for children (Children’s Firesetting Interview or CFI; Kolko & Kazdin, 1989b). On the FRI, parents of firesetters (vs. those of nonfiresetters) report more significant concerns on several fire-specific factors (e.g., curiosity about fire, involvement in fire-related acts, exposure to peers/family fire models) and general child/parent (e.g., negative behavior) or family environment factors (e.g., use of harsh punishment, less effective mild punishment). On the CFI, firesetters (vs. nonfiresetters) have acknowledged more attraction to fire, past fireplay, family interest in fire, exposure to friends or family who smoke, and, somewhat surprisingly, knowledge of things that burn, but tended to show less fire competence (skill) on role-plays or interview questions.

(p. 4) Some clinical studies have also shown a relationship between childhood firesetting and child dysfunction, such as heightened aggression, psychopathology, and social skills deficits (Kolko, Kazdin, & Meyer, 1985). In a related study (Kolko & Kazdin, 1991a), firesetters were reported to exhibit more covert antisocial behavior than both matchplayers and nonfiresetters, and firesetters and matchplayers received more extreme scores than nonfiresetters on measures of aggression, externalizing behaviors, impulsivity, emotionality, and hostility, though they did not differ from one another. Child report measures found only a few differences associated with firesetters (e.g., aggression, unassertion, low self-esteem), relative to nonfiresetters. Some recent evidence suggests that child firesetters have many of the same characteristics as adult firesetters (Gannon & Pina, 2010).

A 2009 study by MacKay, Paglia-Boak, Henderson, Marton & Adlaf surveyed a total of 3,965 students from urban and rural communities across Ontario, ranging in age from 11 to 19 years (grades 7 to 12), of whom 52% were male. The youth were classified into four firesetting levels based on age of onset of their fire involvement and frequency of their current firesetting. Fire involvement was more prevalent among males than females at all frequency levels.

Those classified in a high-frequency firesetting group (those who has set 12+ fires in the last 12 months) were more likely than nonfiresetters to report low parental monitoring, high sensation seeking, delinquent acts, binge drinking, frequent cannabis use, use of illicit drugs, elevated psychological distress, and suicidal intent. Furthermore, the number of risk factors increased incrementally according to firesetting severity. That is, across the firesetting groups, the percentage of youth who set a fire during the past year was 12.6% for those with no risk factors; 26% for those with one risk factor; 34.9% among those with two risk factors; and 53.2% for youth with three or more risk factors.

Parental correlates of firesetting have included heightened personal distress, marital discord, and exposure to stressful life events, and less child acceptance, monitoring, discipline, and involvement in activities promoting the child’s personal and family development (Kolko & Kazdin, 1986, 1991a). Firesetters have characterized their parent’s child rearing practices as involving greater lax discipline, nonenforcement, and anxiety induction, with scores for matchplayers generally falling between firesetters and nonfiresetters.

(p. 5) Subgroups or Types of Firesetters

Efforts to understand the interrelationships among various fire-specific and general clinical characteristics have led to the postulation of subtypes of firesetters over several decades. Early subtypes identified several subgroups (e.g., curious, cry-for-help, pathologic, delinquent). Some children have engaged in serious and intentional fires, as well as concealed and destructive behaviors (Bumpass, Fagelman, & Brix, 1983; Jacobson, 1985; Kuhnley, Hendren, & Quinlan, 1982; Lewis, 1951; Stewart & Culver, 1982); others have set a single fire at home, which appeared accidental and due to curiosity or experimentation (Lewis, 1951). Unfortunately, there is no clear scientific support for any of these subgroups, especially since few validation studies have been reported (Kolko & Foster, in press). Still, it is important to consider how various aspects of a child’s repertoire might be related and in what ways intervention may be facilitated by knowing these patterns.

Assessment and Evaluation Tools

Screening and assessment methods for use with children who set fires and their caregivers have been reported earlier and are more fully described in several sources (see Kolko, 2002d; Wilcox & Kolko, 2002). Most involve the use of rating scales, interviews, and either observational measures or incident reports based on the fire incident. Assessment should be tailored to the population and the context in which the problem is documented and managed. Of course, the population of children who set fires can be quite heterogeneous (National Association of State Fire Marshals, 1999). For example, there is much diversity in the types and severity of mental health problems reported among these children (e.g., aggression, impulsivity), caregivers (e.g., psychiatric distress, poor monitoring), and families (e.g. conflict, few rules; see Faranda, Katskikas, Lim, & Fegley, 2007; Kolko, 2002c; Massachusetts Coalition for Juvenile Firesetter Intervention Programs, 2002). Some young firesetters present to community agencies with complex psychosocial difficulties and involvement with several agencies or systems (Massachusetts Coalition for Juvenile Firesetter Intervention Programs, 2004). Consequently, a combination of interventions may be necessary to adequately address their needs (Massachusetts Coalition for Juvenile Firesetter Intervention Programs, 2004), as discussed further in a later section.

(p. 6) Intervention and Treatment

In general, most of the intervention programs in the United States (Kolko et al., 2008) and Canada (Mackay, Ruttle, & Ward, 2012) are affiliated with the fire service and provide some form of fire safety education. Some of them offer formal clinical services through the program or coordinated referral to a local provider. A comprehensive program includes resources to assess child and family variables associated with firesetting, teach fire safety skills, and offer psychosocial interventions to both children and their caregivers.

To address a child’s exposure to and interest in fire, fire safety education (FSE) often provides training in safety skills/practices (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 1983a, b; see Pinsonneault, 2002). Among these educational materials, there is The Learn Not To Burn program, (National Fire Protection Association, 1979), which teaches protection (e.g., fire drills), prevention (e.g., using matches safely), and persuasion (e.g., practicing safe smoking). Even after two decades, this program is one of the few programs that has demonstrated its impact on fire safety knowledge, relative to controls (National Fire Protection Association, 1978). There are also benefits associated with other skills training procedures (Jones, Kazdin, & Haney, 1981; Jones, Ollendick, & Shinske, 1989) and more comprehensive fire safety curricula (Pinsonneault, 2002).

A comparison study with young hospitalized firesetters found that group fire safety/prevention skills training (FSST) was more effective than individual fire awareness/discussion (FAD) in reducing contact with fire-related materials, increasing fire safety knowledge, and reducing any follow-up fireplay (Kolko, Watson, & Faust, 1991). FSST (vs. FAD) children engaged less often in all four forms of involvement with fire (16.7% vs. 58.3%). In a residential treatment setting, one of 35 children exposed to a fire safety education (FSE) program had set another fire by 1-year follow-up (DeSalvatore & Hornstein, 1991).

Treatment applications designed to alter behavioral dysfunction and environmental conditions have incorporated several cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) procedures, at times, in conjunction with fire safety training (Kolko, 2002b). These methods include graphs that depict the antecedents of and consequences following a fire (Bumpass, Brix, & Preston, 1985), social/assertion skills training (DeSalvatore & Hornstein, 1991; Kolko & Ammerman, 1988; McGrath, Marshall, & Prior, 1979), (p. 7) contingency management (Adler, Nunn, Northam, Lebnan, & Ross, 1994; Kolko, 1983), and both parental and medication treatment (Cox-Jones, Lubetsky, Fultz, & Kolko, 1990). In general, treatment has emphasized child self-control, parent management skills, and/or positive family interactions, with some interventions incorporating several procedures (e.g., contingencies and/or behavioral training skills). These case study reports note reduced firesetting during follow-up and suggest the need to consider the behavioral and functional context of a fire, the child’s interpersonal repertoire, and the use of effective parenting practices/consequences.

An Australian study evaluated similar approaches to working with firesetters (5–16 yrs.) classified as either curiosity or “pathological” (Adler et al., 1994). Although there was a reduction in the number of fires reported after intervention, there were no significant effects for the combined experimental interventions that were used with either firesetter group. Curious (vs. pathological) cases tended to show greater improvement (73% vs. 52%) and a lower percentage of dropout (20% vs. 35%).

In a prospective clinical trial (Kolko, 2001), firesetting boys and their parents were randomly assigned to one of two conditions that reflect contemporary methods used by community-based FSE programs and mental health clinics (CBT). Each intervention was compared with a brief condition that was already being used by the fire service (home visit from a firefighter or HVF). Although all three conditions showed improvements at posttreatment on measures of fire involvement, interest, and risk, CBT and FSE were more efficacious (than HVF) in reducing the frequency of firesetting and proportion of children who later played with matches, the severity of individualized child problems with fire, and the child’s involvement in fire-related acts and other deviant fire activities. These and other group differences, along with certain time effects, remained significant at 1-year follow-up.

A follow-up report from that study examined the specificity, potential moderators, and predictors of recidivism after exposure to these three intervention conditions (Kolko, Herschell, & Scharf, 2006). In terms of specificity, FSE exerted specific effects on some fire knowledge and safety measures, as expected, and CBT tended to show specific effects on success in generating positive problem solutions. Potential moderators of outcome were suggested in exploratory analyses for FSE (i.e., exposure to fire models/materials, child’s general fire knowledge) and CBT (i.e., (p. 8) family dysfunction). Fire history, fire attraction, and externalizing behaviors were among the predictors of firesetting recidivism. Thus, this information suggests that the two primary interventions have some specific effects and that certain background characteristics may enhance intervention response. These overall observations suggest the role of FSE (to target experience with, exposure to, and interest in fire) and psychosocial intervention to promote behavioral control to target individual/family conditions that influence child behavior (Kolko, 2002b).

Finally, an intervention program in New Zealand (Fire Awareness and Intervention Program—FAIP) bears mention (Lambie, Ioane, Randell, & Seymour, 2013). The FAIP is a nationwide educational program established in 1992 and available to children and adolescents up to the age of 18 years who have engaged in fire-related behaviors. The FAIP is delivered in a total of five regions across New Zealand and provides intervention for children from the ages of 3 to 17 years, and their parents. Delivered by fire service personnel in the child’s home setting, the FAIP program has an advisory psychologist who acts in a supporting role for practitioners and provides training, advice on referrals to other agencies, and regular supervision to practitioners. The consultant psychologist also undertakes assessments where a practitioner identifies a child as being at high risk of further firesetting.

Surveys of Community-Based Intervention Programs

Descriptions of the characteristics, functions, and service delivery issues associated with community treatment have been reported for several decades (Kolko, 1988, 2002d). More recently, there has been significant growth in the availability and scope of community-based intervention programs and materials to educate and treat juvenile firesetters (see Faranda, Katskikas, & Lim, 2001; Henderson, MacKay, & Peterson-Badali, 2006; Okulitch & Pinsonneault, 2002). Some programs have organized into statewide coalitions, consisting of several affiliated program sites. Thus far, large-scale coalitions were found only in Massachusetts (Massachusetts Coalition for Juvenile Firesetter Intervention Programs, 2001) and Oregon (Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal, 2002a). Both coalitions are based on a set of common operating principles, procedures, staff, and resources. The model in Massachusetts embraces eight principles, such as the use of regional multidisciplinary task forces, formalized (p. 9) interagency agreements, early identification and referral pathways, and clinical assessment for high risk cases. The model in Oregon emphasizes the importance of community fire safety, program accountability, a continuum of assessment and intervention services, competency-based skills training, and local partnerships.

A survey of juvenile firesetter intervention programs was conducted to empirically depict the “state of the art” in serving this population in North America (Kolko et al., 2008). A total of 150 programs completed surveys, of which 31 were affiliated with one of these two state-wide coalitions. Survey questions examined staff and program composition, child and family characteristics, program operations, and needed developments. A total of 8,501 children and youth were served by these programs. Results indicated that most were males between the ages of 7 and 12 years. Overt behavioral difficulties, hyperactivity, peer problems, and rates of physical and sexual abuse that paralleled national rates were reported.

Paralleling the diverse clinical problems reported among child firesetters, nearly two thirds of parents were perceived as having multiple stressors or problems, including marital/partner problems, poor understanding of fire safety/prevention, substance use problems, use of harsh discipline and poor parenting practices, and a lack of involvement with the child, similar to reports from other programs (Massachusetts Coalition for Juvenile Firesetter Intervention Programs, 2002, 2004). These characteristics are similar to those described in other reports of juvenile firesetters (Faranda et al., 2007; Kolko, 2002c; Kolko & Kazdin, 1986).

Most of the programs (about 75%) were housed in the fire service and about 59% of all staff were fire service professionals, whereas the remaining 25% of the programs were housed in other service systems and included staff representing several disciplines (e.g., law enforcement, mental health, social services). The most common service involved child or parent interview (80% and 90%, respectively). Among intervention components, FSE was the most common. About one half of the programs offered brief counseling for both children and parents, and had follow-ups with a professional in the program, with less than one third offering more extended services. This modest rate of intervention services not only is in accord with the availability of mental health resources, but also highlights recognition of the need to address the child’s and parent’s mental health problems (Kolko, 2002a). Thus, for certain cases, services (p. 10) that extend beyond assessment and single-session fire-safety education will be necessary.

The average recidivism rate for all participants (both those who were referred back to the program for services and those who were not) was about 3%, although the range across programs was substantial (see Faranda et al., 2001). This rate is consistent with prior surveys (Kolko & Kazdin, 1986), but is far lower than the rates reported in empirical studies in which both children and their parents have been prospectively surveyed.

Finally, comparisons between programs that were or were not affiliated with a state-wide coalition revealed many similarities between programs (e.g., program size, number of referrals and ages, training, program type), but also some differences, with the coalition-affiliated programs reporting greater access to multidisciplinary resources, use of teaching and evaluation of fire science classes, and use of structured protocols for service provision. Coalition-affiliated programs also reported treating a population with higher rates of intentional firesetting, and individual, parent, and family mental health problems. Overall, these results highlight considerable diversity among the programs’ multidisciplinary composition, assessment strategies, education and treatment services, and child and family populations. Comparisons between state coalition and independent programs revealed many similarities (e.g., program size, number of referrals and ages, training, program type), and a few key differences in methods, infrastructure, and philosophy.

Few surveys of mental health professionals have been reported. One report of psychotherapists was directed toward understanding some of the training and practice needs of mental health practitioners. The survey confirmed that practitioners as a whole have: (1) a poor awareness of juvenile firesetting behavior, (2) limited interest in the issue, and (3) a lack of knowledge of the current literature and available resources (National Association of State Fire Marshals, 2001). This book is, in part, designed to address this limitation.


Recidivism is somewhat common among children who have set fires, even after intervention (see Kolko, 2002b; Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal, 2002b). A prospective, non-intervention study that followed (p. 11) a sample of 138 children for one year, showed that 14 of 78 (18%) nonfiresetters—defined as children who had no history of either firesetting or matchplay—later did set a fire, and that 21 of 60 firesetters (35%) set an additional fire by follow-up (Kolko & Kazdin, 1992). Late starting was associated only with limited family sociability, whereas recidivism was associated with child knowledge about combustibles and involvement in fire-related activities, parent reports of receiving complaints from others in the community about the child’s fire-related behavior, child hostility, lax discipline, family conflict, and limited parental acceptance, family affiliation, and organization. Some of these variables parallel those that have been associated with adult arson (Rice & Harris, 1991).

A 2-year follow-up study of 268 patient and nonpatient children (ages 6–13 yrs) that included some of the sample reported previously used fire history reports to classify cases into one of three mutually exclusive categories in order to determine how many children engaged in firesetting or matchplay only (Kolko, Day, Bridge, & Kazdin, 2001). Based on the aggregated reports of children and their parents, both patients and nonpatients reported high levels of follow-up firesetting (49%, 64%) and matchplay (57%, 76%), though the frequency of each behavior was generally higher for patients than nonpatients for both firesetting (M’s = 4.2 vs. 1.0) and matchplay (M’s = 3.1 vs. 0.9), respectively. In these samples, 25 of 50 nonpatients (50%) and 26 of 44 patients (59%) were recidivists, whereas 14 of 110 nonpatients (13%) and 11 of 42 patients (26%) became late starters. Other reports from inpatient or forensic settings noted 1-year follow-up recidivism rates of 44% (Stewart & Culver, 1982), 9% (Strachan, 1981), and 15% (Repo, Virkkuen, Rawlings, & Linnoila, 1997). Such findings highlight the prevalence of firesetting in clinic and nonclinic samples, and the continuity of firesetting over time.

The Rochester survey noted earlier included a follow-up survey of students who were involved in local fire department services, which reported a low rate of 3% recidivism. Further, another intervention study (Kolko, 2001) reported 1-year recidivism rates for three interventions, namely, FSE (24%), CBT (22%), and an HVF (44%). These results highlight the discrepancies that can occur between retrospective and prospective data, but the extremely low average recidivism rate reported in the Rochester survey provides an indication of the potential benefits of these existing community services.

(p. 12) Few studies have evaluated predictors of recidivism among juvenile firesetters (Kolko et al., 2001, 2006; MacKay et al., 2006). In one prospective study with a 2-year follow-up period (Kolko et al., 2001), there were two predictors of recidivism among nonpatients (firesetting, covert antisocial behavior) and two for patients (matchplay, covert antisocial behavior). In an intervention trial, several variables were significantly related to recidivism documented 1 year after intervention (i.e., initial number of matchplay incidents, initial number of firesetting incidents, curiosity about fire, fire attraction, involvement in fire-related acts, severity of child behavior problems; Kolko et al., 2006). A longitudinal study of a large cohort of children referred for firesetting behavior found that fire interest and antisocial behavior were related, and that fire interest added to the prediction of recidivism beyond covert antisocial behavior alone (MacKay et al., 2006). A review of eight studies (Kennedy, Vale, Khan, & McAnaney, 2006) also identified several related variables that were associated with recidivism (prior involvement in firesetting, interest in fire, covert antisocial behavior, male, older age, poorer social skills, family dysfunction).

A recent study by Lambie, Ioane, Randell & Seymour (2013) assessed arson recidivism and other offending rates for a group of 182 firesetting children and adolescents referred to the New Zealand Fire Awareness and Intervention Program (FAIP) over a follow-up period of 10 years, concluded many firesetters are at risk of further delinquent activities, including severe offences. The study, mostly composed of male and intentional firesetters, aimed to investigate predictors of offending behaviors as well as variables associated with previous involvement in firesetting behavior and offending severity. Although the arson recidivism rate was low (2%), the overall rate of general offending was high (59%) during the follow-up period. Fifteen percent of the sample was classified as severe offenders (e.g., robbery, sexual assault, serious assault), 40% as moderate (e.g., arson, burglary or speeding offences), and 4% as minor (e.g., theft). Of the offenders, 12.6% had been imprisoned during the follow-up period. Offending was predicted by an experience of abuse and a previous firesetting behavior at the time of the FAIP intervention. The presence of family stress and a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder were associated with previous firesetting behavior. In addition, involvement with family violence (as a perpetrator, complainant, or victim) was associated with more severe offending behavior.

(p. 13) Issues and Implications for Effective Intervention

The emergence of programs that offer an array of services is an important development. This book draws upon experiences conducting treatment and intervention research, and collaboration with community programs. Clearly, having access to more information (National Association of State Fire Marshals, 2001; National Fire Protection Association, 1995) about the characteristics of firesetters: the nature, severity, and history of their firesetting experiences; existing program services and operations; program outcomes; and recommendations will enhanced service delivery.

It is also important to consider whether services for firesetters are more efficient or effective when implemented by an independent program or using a multi- or interdisciplinary approach (Okulitch & Pinsonneault, 2002). The development of multidisciplinary teams that work with juvenile firesetters has been advocated extensively (see Okulitch & Pinsonneault, 2002), especially given the often diverse and complicated needs of these children and their families. This includes the various clinical problems reported for children, parents, and families, which supports targeting parental adjustment problems and parenting practices. Although the parent/family context in which firesetting emerges is addressed by some programs, this context may warrant even greater attention in an effort to assist the whole family. Some of the components worth integrating in a broad program are reviewed in this book.

We also include some attention to program monitoring and evaluation, given that only one half of the programs surveyed earlier conducted some type of “pre-post” or formal evaluation of their effects. The inclusion of outcome measures is essential for accurate program evaluation. Certainly further empirical data on program involvement and recidivism from local programs are needed (see Pinsonneault, 2002).

Because of the prevalence of fire safety education, we include some materials based on current educational curricula designed to enhance a child’s understanding of the dangers of fire and ways to control or prevent fire. There are now many resources varying in content, developmental level, and focus (see Pinsonneault, 2002), though few have been formally evaluated.

In summary, there is a gradually accumulating literature that describes children who set fires, the fires they set, and the programs that serve them. We have outlined key clinical characteristics, services or operations, and (p. 14) likely outcomes. Key components include fire safety education and clinical intervention, which are extensively reviewed in the following chapters. We have also highlighted the need to conduct more formal follow-ups and work collaboratively. Such developments in program monitoring and coordination are necessary to maximize the efficiency, impact, and accountability of these services, thereby helping us to better identify and address the contributors to firesetting recidivism (see Kolko et al., 2006). The chapters that follow are designed to help the practitioner successfully integrate and then implement several assessment and interventions methods with children and youth who present with this troublesome and potentially dangerous behavior.

Overview of This Clinical Guide

This Session Guide describes a modular behavior intervention approach to working with children or adolescents with concerns about their interest in, exposure to, and/or use of fire. The approach incorporates content from prior intervention descriptions or outcome studies (Kolko, 2001; Kolko & Swenson, 2002; Kolko et al., 1991, 2009), as well as some materials or concepts adapted from other intervention programs for children with behavior problems (Kolko et al., 2009, 2012). Several of these methods were recently incorporated in an intervention model designed for families involved in conflict, anger, aggression, and physical force/abuse, called Alternatives for Families: A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (AF-CBT; Kolko, Simonich, & Loiterstein, 2014).

Broadly conceived, the intervention material in this book is primarily directed toward reducing any inappropriate involvement in fire or related activities in order to lower the risk for causing any property damage, personal injury, or other adverse consequences associated with these behaviors. The material is most suitable for younger school-aged children with a recent history of fire involvement or use, but has also been adapted for use with older adolescents. Children or adolescents and their caregivers are the primary participants in treatment.

The intent of the Guide is to present a model that practitioners can use to provide comprehensive, evidence-based practice. The treatment proposed in this model generally targets various factors or domains that may encourage more appropriate and safe behaviors in both children/adolescents and their caregivers, and that provide skills likely to discourage fire (p. 15) involvement. In addition, the materials promote controlling exposure to incendiary materials and opportunities to use fire. We have tried to incorporate clinical techniques having at least some empirical support in the research arena and utility in the practice world.

What Is Included in This Guide?

This Guide and its incorporation of AF-CBT methods incorporates principles and techniques from several perspectives, including behavioral theory, family-systems models, and cognitive behavioral therapy, and lessons learned from the application of interventions in collaboration with fire service experts. The skills promote alternative interests, self-control and assertion, appropriate problem-solving, and communication, among other targets. The intervention methods are applied with an individual child/adolescent or caregiver, or jointly, to address both the firesetting behavior per se and the larger family context in which this activity occurs.

This approach seeks to promote the expression of safe and prosocial behavior, while discouraging any unsanctioned involvement with fire, by focusing upon instruction in intrapersonal and interpersonal skills. To do so, the intervention targets potential contributors to fire use, as well as some common characteristics of, or consequences exhibited by, children/adolescents and families after a fire. Potential contributors include strong interest in or attraction to fire, exposure to inappropriate materials, poor supervision or monitoring of children/adolescents, and harsh parenting practices, as well as coercive family interactions and heightened stressful life events. Potential consequences of fire involvement include worry and uncertainly about potentially imminent dangerous behavior, extreme changes in parenting and family activities, and family conflict. (p. 16)