Children and Arson: America’s Middle Class Nightmare by Wayne S. Wooden, Martha Lou Berkey (auth.)

By Wayne S. Wooden, Martha Lou Berkey (auth.)

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Sample text

The "delinquent" firesetters accounted for 36 (35 percent). And the "severely disturbed" firesetters numbered 12 (11 percent). The two tragic fires reported at the beginning of this chapter represent the most common type of fires set by very young children, the "playing-with-matches" fires. Curious and fascinated by the spark and the igniting of a match, these children are not bent on destruction when they play with fire. Unlike the problem firesetter, these curious kids usually derive no satisfaction from the fires they ignite.

That is, there are some younger juveniles with emotional, psychological, and even physical problems that account for their firesetting behavior. These youngsters we refer to as our "crying-for-help" firesetters. Psychologist Kenneth R. Fineman contends that three conditions have to be met before kids deliberately (as opposed to accidentally) set a fire. 2 First, as we have discussed, there appears to be a pattern of specific behavioral 51 52 CHAPTER FIVE characteristics that sets these youngsters at risk.

Larry," a twelve-year-old white male, was apprehended for setting a vacant lot on fire by using kitchen matches that he had taken from his house. Recent changes in Larry's life included his family's moving to a new neighborhood, which necessitated a change in school for Larry. But more critically, one week before this fire, Larry had witnessed his father's running over and killing his younger sister. The father, angry with the boy, had shifted the land cruiser into reverse and had floored the accelerator, accidentally running over the sister, who was playing in the driveway.

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