Research Updates

Completed Projects

Hickle, K., Roe-Sepowitz, D. (2010). Female Juvenile Arsonists: An Exploratory Look at Characteristics and Solo and Group Arson Offences. Legal and Criminological Psychology. 15(2). 385-399.

Recent Research Explores Adolescent Female Firesetting

Researchers from Arizona State University recently completed a study of 114 adolescent females arrested for arson.  These girls were described as a coming from profoundly unstable homes, exhibiting significant school attendance and behavior problem, having limited contact with at least one parent, and were in the midst of a crisis.  Fires occurred most frequently in school and were  often impulsive or accidental.  Females who set fires alone were differentiated by the presence of greater risk factors than those who set fires in group.   

MacKay, S., et al. (2006). Fire interest and antisociality as risk factors in the severity and persistence of youth firesetting. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 45:9. 1077-1084.

Background Information:

  • Firesetting is included in the diagnosis of conduct disorder and pyromania in the DSM-IV-TR.
  • There is significant evidence that demonstrates the correlation between firesetting and antisocial behavior. CD is frequent diagnosis given to firesetting youth.
  • Less empirical data that describes the link between increased fire interest and firesetting, although consensus opinion among experts that it is an important construct to understand onset and maintenance of the behavior (pathological gambling, paraphilias, kleptomania).

The present study:

  • Looked at kids referred specifically with firesetting as a primary concern.
  • Construes and measures fire interest as a separate risk factor
  • Examined the contribution of interest to firesetting separate from other conduct problems.
  • Predicted that heightened interest would be a correlate to severity and recidivism.

Method:

  • Referrals to The Arson Prevention Program for Children (TAPP-C) outpatient clinic.
  • 192 males, ages 6 to 17
  • All had at least one episode of firesetting, it’s the reason for referral.
  • 70% living in biological parent home, 40% below poverty level.
  • Data drawn from assessment protocol used at TAPP-C

Measures:

  • Fire Involvement Interview
  • Fire Interest-18 sentence stems, rated on 1-4 Likert scale
  • Demographics
  • Firesetting Recidivism-phone interview at 18 month post discharge
  • Antisocial Behavior-CBCL (Aggressive and Rule Breaking Scales)

Results:

  • Both fire interest and conduct problems accounted for variance in the prediction of firesetting severity and recidivism.
  • Subjects showed a wide range of fire interest level, and heightened fire interest was a significant predictor of both the frequency and versatility of fire involvement.
  • Heightened fire interest was also a significant predictor for recidivism during 18 month follow up. Even more so than previous history of fire involvement.
  • Only level of conduct problems was correlated to age of onset of firesetting. Children with elevated conduct problems evidenced earlier age of onset.
  • Curiosity about fire is not a benign risk factor.

Current Research Efforts

Females and Firesetting: An Emerging Research and Practice Area
There has been almost universal agreement during the past twenty years that approximately 10-15% of all youth involved in firesetting are females. Yet, when we tell our stories to each other it is more frequently the young girls who we have come in contact with that scare us the most. Their fires are described as more planned, more sophisticated, more personal, and more targeted. Yet young woman have received less than 1% of our research attention and as a result we know very little about these girls and whether, or how, they might differ from the boys with whom we work. In fact we can count the studies on one hand.

Girls, especially adolescent girls, have been described by some as the looming “third wave” of delinquency and recent statistics bear this out. Crime rates, including rates for more violent crimes, among these girls has risen dramatically during the past decade. These girls are described as coming from even more disturbed, abusive, and violent homes than their male counterparts and their prognosis into adulthood is especially poor with many of them facing domestic violence, homelessness, substance abuse, and incarceration. For many of these abused, neglected, and damaged girls their delinquent behaviors are an effort to act out against a world, or a person, that has treated them so harshly and neglectfully.

Many of the girls who we are asked to evaluate for firesetting fit this pattern. They become involved in firesetting as young adolescents after having been largely free of violent or acting out behaviors through their elementary school years. They frequently have set very few fires, as compared to our boys, but their fires are seen as being more meaningful, frightening, and/or confusing to the adults working with them. Rarely so they set a fire in a vacant building, woods, or dumpster and almost exclusively set fires in their homes or school. Their social skills are more distorted than they are under developed and they have highly conflicted relationships with their parent(s). These girls are often very sad and tragic characters who have little in the way of opportunity or hopefulness.

Those of us in the firesetting world have a challenge ahead of us. How do we respond to what will be a likely increase in the numbers of girls being referred to our programs. So we just provide them what we have provided to the boys or do we really take a look at the different deficits these girls have so we can tailor our interventions to their needs as opposed to tailoring these girls to our program needs?

During the past two years FirePsych Inc. of Medway, Massachusetts and The Children’s Hospital in Aurora, Colorado have been jointly involved in the systematic collection of data on the adolescent females who present for evaluation and intervention at our respective programs. Specifically we are looking at qualities of attachment and relatedness, trauma symptomology, aggression and behavior profiles, and characteristics and qualities of their firesetting as compared to their male counterparts. For information on this study protocol please feel free to contact Dr. Robert Stadolnik at Firepsych@comcast.net This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or Dr. Brad Jackson at bjackson@tchden.org This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Are you currently collecting data as part of an organized study effort? We are interested in sharing information about the focus of your work and when you believe you may be able to share your outcomes.


Opportunities to Collaborate

Are you interested in participating in the development or data collection for a research project? Do you have a particular area of interest? Are you looking for the opportunity to collaborate with other professionals in a project that you have devised?

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