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Youth and Juvenile Firesetting

Resources for preventing and addressing child and youth firesetting.

Whether a child is curious about fire, making a cry for help, attempting to control the adult world, or engaging in delinquent behavior, it is extremely dangerous for children to use fire.

The Child & Youth Firesetting Problem

From 2014-2018, there were 425 juvenile and youth-set fires reported in Massachusetts. The fires caused:

  • Four civilian deaths
  • 20 civilian injuries
  • 9 firefighter injuries
  • An estimated loss of $5.7 million.

Children playing with matches and lighters was the cause reported for 51% of the fires. These reports were made to the Massachusetts Fire Reporting System (MFIRS).

To prevent fires, adults can:

  • Make sure homes have working smoke alarms
  • Develop and practice a home escape plan
  • Keep matches and lighters out of sight and out of reach of young children
  • Explain that matches and lighters are tools for grown-ups.
  • Teach children to tell you when they see matches and lighters laying out in the open. When they do, praise them and move the matches and lighters to a safe location.

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What to do when a child uses fire

It is very dangerous for children to use fire. A child who uses fire may be:

  • Curious about fire
  • Making a cry for help
  • Attempting to control the adult world
  • Engaging in delinquent behavior

Children who use fire can be helped. A trained professional can identify the reasons a child uses fire, and address each reason. Children are evaluated and treated individually. Intervention programs vary, and usually have one or more of the following components:

  • Education
  • Psychological treatment
  • Community service

Juvenile firesetters do not grow out of firesetting. They will continue to set fires until they receive appropriate intervention. Adults can help young firesetters by reacting quickly and appropriately to every fire. Local fire departments and social service agencies can refer to firesetting intervention programs.

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Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect in Massachusetts

Firefighters and police officers are mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect (Massachusetts General Law CH 119-section 51A). Firefighters and police officers may suppress or investigate fires that involve children who are victims of fire. Sometimes, these children have caused the fires. For questions about what constitutes child abuse or neglect, or your responsibilities as a mandated reporter, please visit the Department of Children and Families (DCF) website.

To report possible child abuse or neglect in Massachusetts, you must first file an oral report by calling the Child-at-Risk Hotline at 1-800-792-5200 to notify the appropriate area office of the Department of Children and Families (DCF). Even if you complete the 51 Report Form, you must also first phone DCF directly or the Child-at-Risk Hotline. For information on how to report child abuse and neglect outside of Massachusetts, please call the National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD

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