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Juvenile Arson and Firesetter Intervention Term Paper

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Updated: Oct 26th, 2021

Cases of juvenile arson are consistently taken for granted despite their grave consequences to victims and arsonists themselves. The failure by parents, guardians, and authorities to point potential arsonists and therefore address the problem in advance is seen as the main cause for the increasing cases of this crime. Indeed, the FBI estimates that up to 49 percent of arsonist crimes are performed by juveniles (Zipper, 2005, p. 1). Zipper further reports that boys are the ones most likely to be involved in arson; they are reported to have participated in 83 percent of arson cases compared to 17 percent in girls. Due to the importance of this issue, concurrent sections of this paper shall highlight major causes of juvenile arson as well as intervention mechanisms that should be put in place.

To show the seriousness of this matter, FBI statistics indicate that on annual basis, juvenile caused fires are responsible for $300 million in property damage, 300 deaths among victims that have included juveniles themselves, and 2,000 injuries (USFA, 2000, p. 57). The total number of annual cases has been rising and currently stands at 400,000. These numbers indicate that juvenile arson cases are as serious as other crimes and should be addressed with due seriousness. It is therefore upon the concerned adults and authorities to embark on understanding the cause of children’s involvement in this crime, which would enable earlier intervention. The concerned parties should understand before the problem gets worse as the children grow up. Failure to control at the early stages is tantamount to providing a breeding place for the vice.

Among the reasons for involvement is the fascination with fire. This cause is regarded as the beginning point for the development of the arson vice among children, the reason being that kids tend to practice their fascinations. Indeed according to the US Fire Administration (2000, p. 84), 63 percent of children aged between 3 and 18 express fascinations with fire and a greater urge to put their fascination into practice. This is a reality that parents, guardians, and authorities have to contend with, and consequently develop intervention mechanisms. These individuals should therefore be on the lookout for behaviors indicating a fascination with fire, and embark on cautioning on dangers upon observation.

Children of parents facing serious marital or personal problems are also reported to have a greater possibility of participating in arson activities. These kids happen to receive little attention as parents deal with their own life struggles. As a result of being neglected, children themselves fall under stressful conditions which they find hard to control and therefore participate in activities without care about the dangers or consequences of their actions. Kids growing up in families with poor parenting styles are prone to be engaged in the vice. For instance, families with ineffective enforcement of the order or with harsh punishment are more likely to produce juvenile arsonists (Fineman, 1980, p. 584). This could happen as children start looking for ways to express their anger in ways that would attract parents’ or guardians’ attention. Adults should be keen on observing that behavior and helping children overcome it.

Children with minimal problem-solving skills, low self-esteem is also reported to have a greater tendency of developing arsonist vice. Indeed Kosko and Kazdin (1992, p. 20) have found that such kids have problems with solving small and complex problems facing their social lives. Just like their neglected counterparts discussed above, these kids embark on dangerous activities such as fire-setting as a way of expressing themselves. Kids facing such challenges should be observed with maximum attention in order to avoid the occurrence of such problems. One way of doing this is by keeping the kids occupied, as well as helping them develop social skills.

Juvenile firesetters could be divided into three categories that enable stakeholders in their attempts to develop intervention mechanisms. The first group includes those aged under 7 years. Though this group could exemplify some fascination, fires cause are in most cases accidental and not by plan. It is therefore guardians and adults around these children to ensure reducing chances of accidental fires. Some of the measures used to reduce these accidents are discussed in later sections. This should especially apply when there is fire around.

The second group includes children between the ages of 8 and 12. Given that this is the age that kids embark on practicing their fascinations, parents and guardians should be on high alert and take necessary measures. Greater degrees of freedom and reduction in adult supervision provide kids in this age group with opportunities to exercise their little, but destructive and dangerous, fire fascinations (Fineman, 2000, p. 80). It is also at this stage that children start developing psychological conflicts discussed as major causes of juvenile arson. Failure to address their grievances or concerns by adults could lead to the setting of fires as a way of expressing grievances. This calls for a two-direction approach to the crisis. First, the parents should be keen to listen to children’s needs, which they should meet or explain reasons for the impossibility. Secondly, parents should teach their children moral ways of expressing grievances. Using both approaches would help end the behavior and build foundations for moral approaches to personal problems.

The most dangerous group is the one aged between 13 and 18, the reason being that children in this group happen to have a history of fire setting. The long history could have been aided by the failure of guardians to detect fire plays in the early stages. This is also the period that children with poor upbringing or have problems in solving their social problems embark on expressing themselves through fire setting. Most of these kids have behavioral problems that might not have been brought under control in the necessary time frame. Peer pressure is also a factor when several of these children happen to be friends through schooling or staying in similar neighborhoods.

With regard to intervention, authorities should ensure that all cases of juvenile arson are investigated just it would have happened in an adult-caused fire. Failure by authorities and other stakeholders to follow this process is among the chief reasons that some children develop the arson vice. Parents, too, are to bale for the failure to report small fire-setting crimes in their homes. Authorities and parents fail to report and prosecute juvenile arson because of fear that the resulting criminal records would damage the involved kids’ future (Fineman, 1980, p. 579). Having this sympathy results in a lack of action, and therefore a continuation of the vice. It is only when major faire causing great damage to property or human life that stakeholders rush to deal with the problems. For the best interest of venerable children, people around them, property, and society, it is important that cases be reported. This would help in teaching some lessons regarding the legal consequences of fire-setting behaviors.

The intervention process should also be done for the best interests of children involved with the reported arson. In this regard, authorities involved in interviewing the involved minors should be friendly, which also helps increase cooperation. The interview process should also be used to help youths understand the dangers of their activity. The interviewing officer(s) should first embark on developing a working rapport with minors. The minors are more likely to cooperate with interviewing officials when a trusted environment is established. Apart from understanding how the arson was planned and executed, the interviewing officials also get to understand the reasons behind the activities and therefore help in counseling.

Other than waiting till major arson activity has taken place, parents and guardians should develop the habit of keeping a close eye on their children. This helps in observing any problems in the early stages and therefore helps children drop such dangerous habits. Authorities should contribute to the prevention process by teaching parents ways of observing the vice. Both stakeholders (parents and authorities) in specific localities should develop processes by which children facing arson charges should be dealt with. This should include reporting all cases and having children go through counseling no matter how small their incidences are. Parents whose young children engaged in arson should also be trained on ways of helping their young ones avoid fire-setting temptations. Parents seeing children develop the habit of igniting materials should ensure the reasons behind such behavior. This is actually the best time to address psychological challenges that could be developing among the young ones. Parents should further ensure developing the habit of observing whether their children have stopped the habit.

With regard to small children that accidentally cause fires, parents should embark on taking serious precautionary measures. This should include restricted, or even total ban, on access to ignition equipment. Parents should consider keeping such equipment out of reach of their children at all costs, even if it means under lock and key. Secondly, parents should embark on watching their children when there is a fire lit within the area; kids should not be allowed to play around fire no matter how small it could be. Third, it is upon parents to set a good example for their children. This means being cautious on fire, as well as teaching children the dangers of playing with fire. Children growing up with cautious parents are more likely to develop similar attitudes towards the fire.

Juvenile arson should therefore be considered a serious matter that parents and authorities should treat as a regular crime. Any failure to undertake such measure could lead to the continuation of the vice that has caused immense property damage, loss of human life as well as injuries. Some major reasons for involvement in arson include poor parenting, low esteem, fascination with fire, and peer pressure. All these reasons get become strong as children get older. It is therefore important for parents to watch for characteristics of these vices in their children and consequently help overcome them. In order to overcome the juvenile arson vice in society, it is vital that parents, guardians, and authorities cooperate in the process of preventing, reporting, and dealing with youths involved.


Fineman, K. (1980). “Firesetting in Adolescence. North America Psychiatry Clinics. 3: 479-509.

Kolko, D. & Kazdin, A. (1992). A one year study child fire-setting. Child Psychology. 20 (2): 9-41

US Fire Administration. (2000), Children and Fire. Washington: USFA.

Zipper, P. (2005). Juvenile Arson. FBI Law Bulletin.

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