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Fire Setting

Young people with fire setting behaviour present a high risk to themselves and other people. Most children raise fires from curiosity. Education of both the children and their parents is shown to be effective. Some children start fire setting from the age of 3, and the behaviour peaks at age 8 with boys predominating. There is another, smaller, peak at aged 13, where boys usually, (boys: girls 4 or 5:1), fire set as part of anti-social behaviour with other young people, seeking excitement. If not treated the behaviour continues into adulthood.

The risk of fire in a home is linked with other factors of social exclusion. Persistent fire setting behaviour is linked with less stable homes, absent fathers, poor supervision, harsh or inconsistent discipline, violence, and parental drug abuse. Such children may be lonely and feel excluded and anxious.

Fire-setting behaviour may be managed in one environment, e.g. residential care, but may return if the child returns to the home environment and the underlying behaviour is not addressed.

Motivation for fire setting behaviour is a key issue. It is seen as arising from:

  • Curiosity;
  • Excitement and attention seeking behaviour;
  • Angry, frustrated and revengeful feelings;
  • Delinquent or gang fire setters;
  • As a result of mental illness.

The following can assist in changing the behaviour:

  • Education of child and parent;
  • Helping the child find positive activities. Fire setting may arise from revengeful feelings but the fire does not provide positive feedback for many;
  • Behaviour management;
  • Support to parenting;
  • Addressing causes of insecurity.

A good preventative service may prevent the behaviour leading to the setting of more serious fires, and address the child welfare and child protection issues for the child. Once the child has against his or her name the label of being a serious fire setter this will have serious implications within the provision of care and education, and re-assessments should ensure that this is addressed as behaviour improves.

  1. If the Police, any professional or member of the community becomes aware of any fire setting behaviour by a child/young person they should refer to the Fire and Rescue Service. The Police should refer any young person over the age of 10 years to Youth Offending Team. If the Police are aware of any child/young person protection issues, they should in addition refer to Children's Services;
  2. When the Fire and Rescue Service become aware of child/young person's fire setting behaviour, they will consider if there are any child/young person protection issues and whether there are any immediate hazards. If this is the case they should refer to Children's Services. The Fire and Rescue Service may contact the Referral and Assessment Team to help them identify if a child protection referral is necessary. If this is not required, the Fire and Rescue Service should undertake assessment of the risk presented by the child/young person and their behaviour and the motivation behind this. This assessment will occur within 14 days;
  3. Where the motivation for fire-setting is seen as curiosity and there are no other child/young person welfare issues the Fire and Rescue Service will offer an education service and take no further action.
  1. Where the motivation is seen to be other than curiosity and there are other child/young person welfare issues the Fire and Rescue Service would refer to Children's Services for further assessment.

    Children's Services will either undertake an assessment, under Section 17, or a child protection investigation, under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 using the Framework for Assessment. Where it is appropriate to undertake an Assessment this will be completed within 45 working days;
  1. Children's Services, mindful of the Fire and Rescue Service, will send a referral to CYPMHS, when it is deemed appropriate by the Team Manager. A copy of the Assessment and the Fire and Rescue Service assessment will be sent to CYPMHS. The Home Office approves the Fire Setters Risk Assessment. Parents will be informed that this will be undertaken and their agreement sought. Information may be shared between agencies under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 S 115.
  1. Where Fire and Rescue Service education service only is required this is provided;
  2. Where the assessment of CYPMHS, Children's Services and the Fire and Rescue Service indicate that education service by the Fire and Rescue Service and social care services only are required then this is provided and a care plan drawn up by Children's Services;
  3. Where a complex care package is needed an inter-agency Child Protection Conference or child in need meeting will be held to put together an inter-agency plan. This would be likely to include the Fire and Rescue Service, CYPMHS, Children's Services, District Council Housing Department, Housing Association, Education, relevant provider services, e.g. Family Centre, Young Citizens Project, YOT, NCH over 10s, parents and, where appropriate, young person;
  4. The plan should be reviewed between 3 months and 6 month intervals until it is decided that the child or young person's behaviour has altered round fire setting and that his or her needs are being adequately met;
  5. CYPMHS will offer an assessment of the therapeutic needs of the child or young person within 28 days and send a copy to Children's Services, the Fire and Rescue Service and the parents or those holding Parental Responsibility. The permission of those holding parental responsibility will be required to do this, unless the child's needs are being considered under a S47 investigation, or his/her name is on the List of Children Subject to a Child Protection Plan;
  6. Where a child or young person has been assessed as more than an acceptable risk of fire setting behaviour the Fire and Rescue Service will continue to be available until the assessment may be reduced to acceptable risk. The re-assessments will be passed to Children's Services, CYPMHS (if appropriate) and the parents, or those who hold parental responsibility, will be informed.

A leaflet is available for parents and for professionals from the Herts Fire and Rescue Service 01438 737399/01923 471399. This is also available in large print, braille, audio tape and community languages.

Click here to view Information for Service Users Section.

Last Updated: December 7, 2023