Playing with fire and firesetting are extremely dangerous behaviours that can result in substantial personal and economic loss to families and communities. The Arson Prevention Program (TAPP-C) is a program for youth who have played with fire or set fires, including such things as playing with matches or lighters, burning paper or garbage, performing lighter "tricks," intentionally setting fire to buildings, or making bombs. It is an evidence-based collaborative program that involves fire service and mental health professionals working together to insure that all youth involved with fire have the best chance possible for a safe and healthy future.
The program was introduced in 1991 as a collaborative effort of the Office of the Fire Marshal of Ontario, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (formerly the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry), and the City of Toronto Fire Services. Since that time, the program has expanded throughout Ontario, as well as to communities in other provinces. Recently, there has been significant international interest.
TAPP-C's model of service delivery insures that every adolescent who is referred to the program, along with his/her family, has access to a home safety check and fire safety education through the fire department, as well as a risk assessment and brief intervention through a children's mental health centre or hospital. It may come as a surprise that TAPP-C involves all children being offered both services. Traditionally, juvenile firesetter programs have been delivered exclusively by fire services. TAPP-C uses this model because fire involvement by youth is a complex behaviour that is best addressed by a multi faceted approach. Fire service professionals have practical expertise in dealing with juvenile firesetters, including evaluating and helping to improve home fire safety, teaching fire safety knowledge and skills, and providing positive role models. Children's mental health professionals have training and expertise in conducting assessments, and in helping children and families deal with difficult behaviour.
The experiences of TAPP-C professionals, combined with information from other juvenile firesetting programs, confirm the importance of including both services in this model. There is considerable evidence suggesting that a child's setting of fires can be an indication of other problems in his/her life. As well, there is ample research to show that predicting recidivism risk (that is, whether someone will repeat a particular behaviour) is complicated. By the time a parent calls and asks for help with a child's fire involvement, usual strategies for addressing misbehaviour have often been tired and proven ineffective. According to TAPP-C's database, children and adolescents have usually been involved with fireplay or firesetting more than once before being referred to the program. As a result, it is important that services are available from professionals who have expertise in conducting risk assessments and who specialize in helping parents deal with their child's misbehaviour.
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