cartoonkidandmatchThe Fire Service are naturally the best people to work with young people on the educational and fire safety aspects of challenging fire-setting behaviour in children. In our experience they tend to feel less sure about how to address the psychological and emotional reasons that may be driving the fire-setting. Indeed they sometimes feel ill equipped to look at these underlying factors.

In the four day workshop designed by Secure Base we start by making it very clear we are not trying to train anyone to become a counsellor – that would be impossible in only four days. Rather we focus on the idea of Advisors as being in a helping relationship with young people and their families. To assist them in this role we encourage them to develop some basic counselling and coaching skills – focussing, listening, body language awareness, empathic attunement, challenging and questioning.

Teaching New approaches

In addition we spend time considering the likely emotional dynamics operating in families where a child begins to set fires. We look at the various types of fire-setter and unpack the motivations and intentions of the children involved. The goal is for Firesetter Advisors to have a deeper understanding of the emotional processes at work when fires are started so they can work with young people on providing realistic alternative goals, behaviours and coping strategies. This element of the work incorporates the latest thinking and understanding from attachment theory, emotional self-regulation work and psychodynamic psychotherapy.

The week is structured around a mixture of traditional input, role-play, exercises and self-reflection, building up to a school visit where each participant will spend time interviewing a teenager about what makes them tick. This is a chance to put what they have learned into practice

kidouttawindowPersonal Development is Fundamental

One of the most powerful and popular elements of the workshop is the self- development work where each person gets the chance to think back to their own childhood/teenage years and look at how their personality developed and to think about the various pressures, expectations and difficulties they experienced. This offers an excellent chance to really empathise with the children they work with and to appreciate the vulnerable and often frightening position they will be in when the Fire Service visits their home.

Cutting Edge Research

pile-of-booksThis work has now run over 50 times with 20 fire services across the UK. It has recently been completely revised to reflect the latest work on teaching children more effective emotional self-regulation and has been extremely positively received by the participants.


  • Understand different types of firesetters and some of the psychological drivers for that behaviour
  • Build a basic understanding of how we regulate our emotions, thoughts and behaviour when stressed
  • Approach firesetting situations with a depth of understanding for unconscious triggers and drivers (in themselves, children and parents)
  • Appreciate how behaviour patterns fixed in the brain during childhood are open to rapid change in the age period 8-18
  • Develop understanding of non-verbal communication
  • Develop coaching skills for working with young people and parents
  • Work with a range of interpersonal interventions to facilitate behaviour change in young firesetters
  • Work in a safe, boundaried and ethical manner with young firesetters and their families
  • Develop advanced empathy for young firesetters using personal reflection
  • Identify their own communication and facilitation preferences
  • Effectively deliver a comprehensive programme for behaviour change with young firesetters

Training Outline:


Day one:

Some explanation of the theory of self-regulation, attachment, how our brain forms as a child and how that can be upset. We look at how children can get to the point where they want to set fires and what the fire provides for them.  We look at how the brain is ‘plastic’ up until the early 20’s and how a successful intervention can provide a life-long skill set that may eventually help children in other ways. Also on day one we look at advisors own communication style and some of their communication ‘pre-sets’.  A fundamental part of this course is to understand that we all communicate differently and bring different personalities to an intervention.  This part of the day is key to the rest of the week. Some knowledge of how you ‘tick’ is essential when working with children. This is becoming a much more stringent requirement in any helping role.

We spend some time looking at types of fire setting and some of the underlying psychological drivers – very important later on in the workshop when considering how to move forward with an intervention.  Communication is an art, and we underline that an advisor should have a broad variety of ‘comms’ approaches – other than their ‘pre-sets’. This slide looks at how we will build a toolkit to communicate with children dependent on the child’s age, ability, and intro/extroversion. By the end of day one we will have given all the delegates an experience of some of the ‘micro-practices’ of human communication and a sense of themselves and what they bring to an intervention.

Our position at Secure Base

As with most progressive helping strategies – is to focus initially on relationship building. This is now without argument the most evidenced approach to any helping strategy, and any tools or treatment planning rests on the success of this. This slide summarises the importance of that rapport and the content of day one’s practical and theoretical activities. We look at the setup of a first visit, some basic questions you can ask and what to do if thing get tricky.

Day Two

This day begins with the ‘using yourself as a tool’ exercise which helps delegates develop empathy for the children, hone their listening skills, normalise ‘childhood difficulties’ and begin to reflect on their own journey.

Day two and three consist of some practical exercises that equip delegates with dynamic tools to work in the setting, one key exercise is one we call ‘Dean’s dilemma’. This is a whole group role play followed by individual role plays with an advisor working with a teenage boy who is withdrawn. We ask delegates to bring all of the tools and techniques learnt from days 1&2 into the situation.

The Force field Analysis is a typical overview for working with a fairly simple case. Aside is one of the individual techniques for dealing with children that are unsettled.

Some sample slides from the course




How much should I direct the work