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Firesetting Children: Risk Assessment and Treatment

NCJ Number
G A Sakheim; E Osborn
Date Published
77 pages
Children, especially boys, are curious about fire and a significant number engage in exploratory fire play; for some, however, initial activity evolves into chronic firesetting that destroys property and injures or kills people.
Because the problem of explicitly assessing and identifying juveniles at risk for recidivism in firesetting has not been studied adequately, the authors report five studies of firesetters they conducted and describe a psychodynamic approach to assessing firesetting risk. A worksheet is provided to guide firesetting appraisals that is based on a prediction equation, an intelligence scale, a projective battery, and interview and case history data. Using the worksheet, the clinician can rate various indicators as present, absent, or do not know. If a majority of indicators are present, a substantial risk exists in terms of a configurational firesetter profile. The worksheet also includes items tapping behavioral controls and ego strengths. The book is intended for use by psychologists, clinical social workers, and psychiatrists to help them distinguish between juvenile firesetters and nonfiresetters and between low-risk match players or curiosity firesetters and high-risk or pathological firesetters. Personality and behavioral characteristics and family background factors are described that are consistently and positively associated with firesetting behavior. Tables and illustrations