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 2012-2016, there were 531 juvenile and youth-set fires reported in Massachusetts. These fires caused one civilian death, 24 civilian injuries, 27 firefighter injuries, and an estimated dollar loss of $7 million. Of these reported fires, (51%) were reported to the Mass. Fire Reporting System as started by “children playing with matches and lighters.”

It's important for adults to make sure homes have working smoke alarms, develop and practice a home escape plan, and keep matches and lighters out of sight and out of reach of young children. Explain that these are tools for grown-ups. Teach children to tell you when then see matches and lighters laying 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

Whether a child is merely 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. Children and youth who use fire can be helped, but they must receive the right kind of help. It is not a phase that they will grow out of, it is not a matter of boys being boys or yelling at them or burning their fingers or other such methods. The reason a child uses fire must be identified by a trained professional and addressed. Each child must be evaluated and given the correct intervention program. Intervention programs vary, typically containing one or more of the following components: education, psychological treatment or community service.

Youth and juvenile firesetters will continue to set fires until they receive appropriate intervention. Adults do not help the young firesetter if they do not react appropriately and swiftly to every fire. Contact your local fire department of social service agency for a referral to a local child and youth firesetting intervention program that can help the child.

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Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect in Massachusetts

Firefighters and police officers are mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect by statute (Massachusetts General Law CH 119-section 51A). Often times, in the performance of their duties they are called on to suppress or investigate fires that involve children who have been victimized by these fires. On some occasions, these children have caused the fires. If as a mandated reporter, you have questions about what constitutes abuse or neglect of children or your responsibilities as a mandated reporter please go to 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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