Juvenile firesetters as multiple problem youth with particular interests in fire: Results from a meta-analysis across 39 independent samples

Ms Perks Danielle1, A/Prof. Bruce Watt1

1Bond University, Robina, Australia

Juveniles are overrepresented among arson offenders, resulting in significant distress for society and considerable costs in damage to property and potential for harm to others.  Previous research has been mixed in identifying key risk factors differentiating juvenile firesetters from youth who do not light unsanctioned fires.  The current meta-analysis examined all published and available unpublished research over a 30-year period, examining risk and protective factors associated with child and adolescent firesetting.  Control groups comprised youth living in the community, forensic samples, and clinic referred youth.  Across 39 independent samples with 22,292 juveniles, fire specific variables yielded the strongest differentiation between firesetters and non-firesetters, particularly history of fire involvement and fire interest.  Juvenile firesetters had significantly more extensive histories of problematic behaviours, experienced adverse familial events, elevated rates of emotional dysregulation, and greater prevalence of mental health disorders compared to youth not involved in fire lighting.  Protective factors were less often identified for juvenile firesetters compared to non-firesetters.  The findings highlight juvenile firesetters often experiencing diverse and multiple problems, magnified by a history of interest and involvement in firelighting.  Hence, interventions with juvenile firesetters need to target multiple problem areas while assisting youth to redirecting interests toward nonantisocial pursuits.  Caution is noted in interpreting the findings, with significant heterogeneity identified for most effect sizes across studies.


Dr Bruce Watt is a Forensic and Clinical Psychologist, employed as an Associate Professor with Bond University.   Commencing his career researching interventions with incarcerated violent offenders, he has subsequently investigated family based interventions for antisocial youth, predictors of juvenile violent recidivism, community correlates of violence and psychopathy, animal cruelty and firesetting among juvenile offenders, juvenile fitness for trial, and juvenile threats of harm to others.  Dr Watt frequently provides assessments for Children’s Court, Criminal Court, and Family Law, and is a member of OMSR.

Danielle Perks is a PhD candidate at Bond University, recently submitting her thesis for examination. She has spent the majority of her academic and clinical career focusing on antisocial youth, including juvenile violence and deliberate firesetting behaviour. She previously worked within Queensland Youth Justice Services and is currently employed by Specialist Operations, Queensland Corrective Services.

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