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Increase our Knowledge and Expand Awareness

By Robert Stadolnik, Ed. D.

Apr 6, 2010 Back


The real truth is that as a collective professional discipline, we have not completely risen to the challenges and opportunities placed before us to reduce and eliminate problem firesetting among children. I am convinced that any progress we are able to make over the next ten years will first depend on the creation of a working national forum that allows for easier access to ideas, opportunities, and credible information. Equally important will be our willingness and ability to collaborate and partner with each other, within our own discipline, which will then allow us to rise to the challenge of becoming more equal partners with those in fire service, pediatric burn care, juvenile justice and schools.

Our knowledge base of juvenile firesetting is limited and must be actively increased. A recent search on the PsycLit computer database for published mental health literature (books, chapters, research articles on child firesetting) identified only 89 citations published through 2008. This is compared to 8,803 located for child depression and 8,039 located for child trauma.1 Child firesetting is researched nearly one hundred times less! This means that as a mental health community, we need to work with the other involved disciplines to collect data, conduct studies and define best practices.

The base and research of our knowledge must be increased, but the dissemination of information and awareness of juvenile firesetting must also be expanded into our university and college training programs. This expansion is critical in encouraging greater professional training and internship opportunities for young professionals. Only 5% of 300 randomly selected psychotherapists indicated there was ever discussion of juvenile firesetting during their coursework.2

Path to Solutions

A 1999 survey of 300 mental health professionals, sponsored by the National Association of State Fire Marshals, reported that the overwhelming majority had a poor awareness of juvenile firesetting, had a low interest in the area resultant from that poor knowledge, and had little access to literature or training on the subject. Both an increase of knowledge and expansion of awareness will stem from a well informed discourse within the mental health community. These two driving factors depend on the sharing of current information, breakthroughs, and high quality, evidenced-based information on assessment and treatment with our colleagues.

MatchBook is the opportunity for a national clearinghouse on juvenile firesetting. It allows each of us to be an active partner with other professionals around the country, and beyond, who share a passion and commitment to this work. It provides us with the occasion to address the first 2 aforementioned steps: the lack of knowledge and stunted quality of discourse. Collectively, as mental health professionals, let’s use MatchBook to learn and contribute state-of-the-art and best practice information and tools. The challenge is to increase our professional and personal influence, encourage great consultation opportunities and foster advocacy and public information initiatives. The outcome will be knowledge- based programs that save lives.

1 Stadolnik, R. (2007). Is She Cinderella or Medusa?: Adolescent Female Firesetting. Presented at Foster Family Treatment Association (FFTA) Annual Conference. Houston, TX.

2 Schwartzman, P.,et al. (1999). JUVENILE FIRESETTER MENTAL HEALTH INTERVENTION: A Comprehensive Discussion of Treatment, Service Delivery, and Training of Providers. National Association of State Fire Marshals. Washington, D.C.

About The Author

Robert Stadolnik, Ed. D.

Dr. Robert Stadolnik is a licensed psychologist, President of FirePsych, Inc., and the author of the book Drawn to the Flame: Assessment and Treatment of Juvenile Firesetting. Dr. Stadolnik partnered with Brandon Residential Treatment Center in 2005 to pilot a comprehensive, evidence-based firesetting assessment protocol for short-term residential placements. He has recently completed research studies on specialized firesetting populations including adolescents in residential care and adolescent females. Dr. Stadolnik consults to fire safety programs, residential treatment centers, public school systems, and state child welfare agencies. Over the past fifteen years he has completed or supervised over 1,000 firesetting behavior assessments and has provided trainings and workshops on a national level.