The first stage of an exploratory study into the UK fire and rescue services working with children and young people who set fires

Published date28 June 2022
Date28 June 2022
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology
AuthorJoanna Foster
The rst stage of an exploratory study into
the UK re and rescue services working with
children and young people who set res
Joanna Foster
Purpose This paper aims to outline the first stages of an exploratory study into how the UK fire and
rescue services(FRSs) identify those children and young people who requirepsychosocial interventions
to addresstheir firesetting behaviour.
Design/methodology/approach A purposive sample (N= 53) representing all the UK FRSs was
recruited. Participants completed an online survey to establish the type of firesetting intervention
provided, if any; the training and policies available to staff who identify those clients requiring
psychosocialinterventions and what influences thisdecision-making.
Findings Decision-making on how to identify clients requiring psychosocial interventions was
dominated by professional judgement informed by practitioner training and experience alone, which is
subject to human errorand bias. Some staff undertaking this risk-critical workhave no access to training
and/or written guidance to assist their decision-making. Nearly 30% of participants (N= 14) deemed
national firesetting policy as not useful in identifying the type of firesetting intervention needed. The
development of a risk assessmenttool, training and national written guidance were consideredthe three
main waysstaff could be helped in identifying those clients requiringpsychosocial interventions.
Practical implications The implications areas follows: the development of a risk assessmenttool for
fire and rescue service staff working with childrenand young people who set fires, a requirement for all
fire and rescuestaff working with children and young people who set fires to receive mandatorytraining in
this specialistfield of work, all FRSs to offer firesettingintervention services to children and youngpeople,
all FRSs to have written firesetting policies that assist staff in their identification of firesetting risk and
national firesetting guidance for FRSs that assists staff in their identification of firesetting risk and the
tenetsof defensible decision-making.
Originality/value To the best of the author’s knowledge, this is the first study to look at how the UK
FRSs identify those children and young people requiring psychosocial interventions to address their
firesetting behaviour. The 100% completion rate to the online survey suggests the findings are
generalisable across all the UK FRSs, providing the FRS professional body with an opportunity to
instigatethe changes their frontline practitionersand managers have identified.
Keywords Firesetting, Fire safety education, Decision-making, Risk assessment,
Fire and rescue services, Psychosocial, Defensible decision-making
Paper type Research paper
A substantial proportion of deliberately set fires are started by children and young people
(Tyler et al.,2019). Up to a third of young people in community samples report that they
have engaged in firesetting behaviour (Lambie and Randell, 2011) and this “common,
costly and complex problem” (Kolko, 2002,p. 17) is cited as causing significant amounts of
physical, financial and emotional damage across the world each year. As recently as
October 2019, a nine-year-old boy in Eureka, IL, was charged with five counts of first-
degree murder after allegedly starting a mobile home fire that killed five of his family
Joanna Foster is the
Managing Director, fabtic,
London, UK.
Received 22 June 2021
Revised 13 January 2022
28 April 2022
17 May 2022
Accepted 23 May 2022
My sincerest thanks to Dr Lucy
Willmott and Dr Faye Horsley
for their guidance when writing
this article. I remain ever
grateful to the fire and rescue
service practitioners across the
UK who made this study
possible through their
engagement and support. May
they be heard, seen and
recognised in the risk-critical
work they do.
Funding: This study was
supported by a research grant
from Homerton College,
University of Cambridge.
DOI 10.1108/JCRPP-06-2021-0035 VOL. 8 NO. 3 2022, pp. 209-224, ©Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2056-3841 jJOURNAL OF CRIMINOLOGICAL RESEARCH, POLICY AND PRACTICE jPAGE 209
members ( year-old-boy-murder-charges-
20191021-ddhtxpjvjvhzxflezydaq43z6y-story.html). Upon reflection of these findings and the
retributive criminal justice response child-set fires can evoke, it i s perhaps of little surprise that
deliberately set fires are a problem that “merits attention from both policy makers and
practitioners” (Palmer et al.,2007,p.102).
An absence of attention
Remarkably, despite this acceptance amongst academics that juvenile firesetting is a
significant societal problem, there has only been one evaluation of the interventions
available in England and Wales for children and adults who set fires. The mixed-methods
study, published in March 2005 by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM),
included an initial postal and electronic survey sent to organisations providing interventions
to adults and children setting fires. These included fire and rescue services (FRSs),
probation, youth offending services and forensic mental health units. The 44% response
rate (N= 144) to the survey confirmed that the majority of interventions for children and
young people setting fires were provided by FRSs. Partner organisations like youth
offending teams would typically referyoung people to FRSs for firesetting intervention.
The 2005 study further established that there was no single, standardised approach used in
firesetting intervention work across any of the services. It sought to address this
inconsistency by recommending two distinct types of intervention when working with
children and young people who set fires; one, an educational package mostly delivered by
fire service professionals, the other a treatment programme more typically provided by
clinicians. The evaluationset out that these two different approaches of fire safety education
and treatment with the latter most commonly referred to as “psychosocial interventions”
(p. 15) would each require assessment procedures. Indeed, if firesetting intervention was
to be successful it must contain content appropriate to the target population, thus making a
“full assessment...fundamental” (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, 2005, p. 22). Yet, by
2020, there remained an ongoing absence of any standardised assessment framework to
help practitioners identify children and young people in need of support beyond fire safety
education to address their firesetting behaviour. Therefore, it remained unclear how the
workforce carrying out most of the work with children and young people who set fires
identify those clients requiring psychosocial interventions.Furthermore, with youth offending
services not typically trained in firesetting behaviour because there is deemed to be “no
need” (Palmer et al.,2007, p. 110), FRSs would most likely be faced with the responsibility
of identifying the type of firesettingintervention needed when accepting referrals from youth
Fire safety education and psychosocial interventions
The limited literature on “what works” in addressing child-set fires is clear in identifying two
distinct yet specialist intervention approaches to this potentially fatal behaviour: fire safety
education (FSE) or psychosocial interventions. Each demanding a different form of
expertise, FSE aims to target a child’scuriosity in, exposure to and experience with fire and
requires the expert instruction of fire safety skills and practices that raise awareness of the
dangers of fire. This most common intervention for children and young people who set fires
is often delivered in conjunction with psychosocial interventions, separate though the two
approaches are. Psychosocial interventions seek to modify parenting practices, children’s
cognitive and behavioural responses and the family functions and relationships that
influence a child’s firesetting behaviour. Such interventions frequently incorporate cognitive
behavioural treatments, including graphing (Bumpass et al.,1983), pro-social skills and
anger control (Kolko and Ammerman, 1988), problem-solving skills (DeSalvatore and
Hornstein, 1991) and cognitive behaviouraltherapy (CBT) (Kolko, 2002).

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