Dr. Toni Makkai, Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, made an ominous opening statement: “Of all of the crimes committed by young people, arson is potentially one of the most devastating.” He was speaking at the launch of a new program “Juvenile arson intervention programs in Australia”, prepared by the Institute to address the problem.
“The lighting of fires by children in Australia is a significant problem,” said the Institute’s press bulletin. “About 20 percent of fires in Australia are thought to be started by young people, mostly bush or grass fires. Fires caused by children in NSW resulted in losses of A$24 million [US$20 million] between 1987 and 1994.”
This paper outlines intervention programs for young people who have shown an unhealthy interest in fire. The research was undertaken as part of a project funded by the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre. The full text is available on the Institute’s web site at: http://www.aic.gov.au.
The bulletin notes that Australia’s fire services conduct programs for young persons across the country, which are aimed at all children, not just those who may have been involved in arson. The programs target children ranging in age from as young as 3-5 years up to 15-18 years of age and are usually carried out in the homes of the young person with the involvement of the parents.
Setting fires isn’t necessarily part of a “distinct syndrome,” said the bulletin. These acts can be “part of more generalized patterns of antisocial behavior and may be symptomatic of deeper problems. Four key factors relating to family life are associated with an increase risk in a juvenile fire setting – poor supervision and monitoring, parental non-involvement, parental pathology and stressful events.”
As a result, while this program targets juvenile arson, the Institute said it recognizes that “this may be just one of several forms of antisocial behavior, any of which might be assisted by the program. The reasons why a juvenile is setting fires must form the basis of the development of an appropriate intervention program. Proper assessment is crucial to intervening effectively with arsonists.”
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