Feature Article

Juvenile arson: questions and answers, causes and comments

Robert G Adler
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Arson is the act of deliberately setting fire to property of any kind. Child firesetters are not necessarily arsonists: they may be too young to comprehend the implications of their actions or may start a fire unintentionally. What else do we know about children who light fires and how can we help them and their families?

Key Points

  • Firelighting, as opposed to curiosity about fires, should be taken seriously.
  • All parents should be encouraged to make their homes fire safe by installing Standards Australia-approved smoke detectors and not leaving matches and lighters where young children may find them.
  • All parents should be encouraged to teach young children that ‘matches are tools not toys’ and older children to be fire safe and fire competent.
  • Educational programs run by trained firefighters for children and families can be an effective means of reducing the frequency and severity of firelighting.
  • Lighting fires, more common in boys than girls, is often a symptom of other behavioural or emotional difficulties and referral to mental health services may be appropriate.