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Sacramento Valley (California) Juvenile Firesetter Program

The goals of the Sacramento Valley Juvenile Firesetter Program is to reduce the devastating effects of juvenile firesetting by providing assistance and support to the community by assessment, intervention, education, and referral for counseling for juvenile firesetters and their families.

The Sacramento Valley Juvenile Firesetter Program is open to any child (ages 3 to 17) living within the parameters of the agencies sponsoring this program. A child that causes or was involved with causing a fire can be referred to the fire or burn agency that has jurisdiction of the area where the child set the fire or was found involved in fire use. Referrals may come from a concerned parent, neighbor, teacher, fire investigator, counselor, or the Sacramento County Juvenile Probation Department.

The Sacramento Valley Juvenile Firesetter Program is comprised of five steps including referral, assessment, preenrollment hearing, education, and counseling.

Upon referral of information regarding a juvenile firesetter, that family is contacted by the fire or burn agency having jurisdiction and the family is provided with information about the parent's/guardian's responsibilities in the program. After this initial contact, the procedures of the four components of the program begin.

Families entering this program are classified into one of three different categories: voluntary, fire agency diversion, or court referral. Depending upon which category a family fits into, the program requirements may differ.

The program component referred to as assessment is completed in the early stages of the program and is the first component of the program. Families entering the program voluntarily, by citation, or court referral must participate in this component. The assessment gives the fire agency interviewer the opportunity to assess the firesetting behavior and the conditions that led/allowed the fire incident to take place and then, make specific recommendations to the youth and the parent/guardian. The interview or assessment is conducted under guidelines developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA's) U.S. Fire Administration.

If the family has entered the program due to a child receiving a "citation with intent to defer," a diversion hearing will be required by the fire agency issuing the citation. The purpose of the hearing is to determine the child's suitability to remain outside of the scope of the juvenile justice system while participating in the program.

When the assessment and, if necessary, the diversion-hearing steps are completed, and indications show the participating family should be enrolled in the safety academy, the program's official education component begins. The sessions cover a number of fire and life safety subjects, plus communication and family skills. These sessions will include guest speakers, activities, and homework. All of those attending the fire safety academy are placed in age- and behavior-appropriate classes. All sessions must be attended to complete the academy.

A referral for counseling is another component of the program. The fire district interviewer may determine from the assessment process that family counseling is necessary to reduce unfavorable conditions affecting the youth. A counseling resource packet obtained from county probation is provided and reviewed with the family to highlight a plan to enroll the child/youth into counseling. If the family is referred by juvenile probation, a written referral may be sent to the probation whereby court-ordered counseling services may need to be obtained.

Should family counseling be recommended, the participating family will not attend the fire safety academy until such counseling has come to an end and/or the counseling program's clinical director has approved the child's/youth's attendance.

After completing the fire safety academy and/or counseling, the program may contact the adults to determine the status of the child's behavior in regards to the following: occurrences of firesetting; school work; family communication; activities with peers; and whether the home environment shows a reduced risk in the child obtaining instruments used for firesetting.