Risk factors and risk assessment in juvenile fire-setting

Mairead Dolan*, Troy E. McEwan, Rebekah Doley, Katarina Fritzon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


This article provides an overview of the literature on risk issues in juvenile fire-setting behaviour. In particular, we highlight the importance of acknowledging the differences in terminology used in current studies and outline the importance of developmental issues in understanding when fire-related activities should be considered pathological. The estimated prevalence of fire interest, fire play, fire-setting and arson are discussed. The key sociodemographic, individual and environmental factors that are associated with pathological fire-setting are discussed in the context of general delinquency. The limited findings, to date, suggest that fire-setting in the main is similar to non-fire-setting delinquent behaviour in juveniles as the majority have conduct disorder rather than major mental illness. There is some very limited evidence that attentional problems may have a specific association with fire-setting but this requires replication on a larger scale. Risk assessment for those who have engaged in fire-setting behaviour is contextualised within themodel outlined in theUnited States Federal EmergencyManagement Agency (FEMA) as this is one of the leading international agencies conducting work in this field. A variety of available risk assessment tools are outlined and the utility of FEMA models and screening tools for assigning cases to appropriate risk assessment-based interventions is outlined. Additional clinically based tools are discussed and their value in treatment/ management assignment decisions is highlighted. Using a risk model for fire-setting, it is clear that multiagency working is crucial in designating cases to higher levels of multidisciplinary assessment and treatment. At present, current international and Australian interventions for juveniles largely focus on educational and fire safety awareness programmes and there is a lack of structured clinically based programmes that meet the needs of those higher-risk juveniles who have unmet mental health and social needs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)378-394
Number of pages17
JournalPsychiatry, Psychology and Law
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011


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