Juvenile firesetters to be focus of biagency study

Juvenile firesetters to be focus of biagency study

A federally sponsored study on juvenile firesetting will examine the whole problem, from the initial act of arson through the court system and to the counseling of young arsonists.

The National Juvenile Firesetter/Arson Control and Prevention Program unites two federal agencies in the fight against juvenile arson: the United States Fire Administration and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The agencies contracted with the Institute of Social Analysis in Washington. D.C. to conduct the four-year study.

The statistics on juvenile firesetters are “very, very sketchy,” says Tom Minnich, fire prevention specialist on arson for the USFA and co-project officer. Studies offer insight on particular aspects of juvenile firesetting, he says, but they haven’t dealt with the entire issue at one time.

“We ll examine juvenile firesetting from beginning to end,” Minnich says. “It’s a pretty large undertaking, but we believe it will be the most comprehensive, in-depth study on juvenile firesetters. We’ll find out where the system is working, and where it’s not.”

The program has two phases, the first involving the collection of information from fire departments, lawenforcement agencies, mental health personnel, criminal justice workers, and educators, plus the evaulation of succesful counseling programs and their adaptability to other communities. A national conference, which w-ill drawon experts from related fields from around the country, will be convened to assess the first two years’ work.

The second phase will be devoted to developing effective model programs and policies that local communities w-ill be able to use in their areas.

The program won’t just focus on juvenile arson problems in large metropolitan areas. There are many lessons to be learned from small communities that might experience relatively fewincidents each year. Minnich says, but have nevertheless developed effective programs for dealing with the young firesetters.

An integral part of the program is an advisory group comprised of experts from areas related to juvenile firesetting. The panel will periodically review information compiled through the program. A state legislator and a federal legislator will be asked to be ex officio members of the board as well, Minnich says.

Minnich says there are plans for a parent and a juvenile to be part of the panel. The parent selected will most likely be one whose child has set fires; the juvenile chosen may or may not have set fires.

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