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Open Residential Firesetting & Sexual Behavior Treatment Program

Since 2006, the Abraxas Open Residential Firesetting and Sexual Behavior Treatment Program has been working with male youth who have displayed varying levels of fire misuse and sexual behavior problems. We work with each youth to develop healthy boundaries, establish appropriate attachments, cultivate age appropriate social skills, expand coping strategies, process trauma, and develop an understanding of and correctives for their behaviors. The program is located in South Mountain, PA on the grounds of the South Mountain Restoration Center.

The Open Residential Firesetting and Sexual Behavior Treatment Program was designed to support the need for EARLY INTERVENTION for youth in a non-secure treatment environment.

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Open Residential Firesetting & Sexual Behavior Treatment Program

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Statistical data shows that both firesetting behaviors and sexual behavior issues are being recognized at earlier ages and can be symptoms of more deeply rooted traumatic experiences and clinical issues. This can include neglect, abuse, disruptive attachments and various mental health disorders. Until these issues are adequately addressed, youth may work to process trauma or manage stress in unhealthy ways. This can result in children using fire as a means to solve their problems. Early treatment intervention can be critical in eliminating the progression of these behaviors.

The same clinical issues leading to fire misuse can often lead to inappropriate sexual behavior. Often times, youth with sexual behavior issues have been exposed to sexual behavior or material at a young age without appropriate guidance or adult intervention. When combined with disrupted attachments, poor boundaries and limited coping strategies, these youth become over-sexualized. The Open Residential Firesetting and Sexual Behavior Treatment Program provides non-secure firesetting treatment and non-secure sexual behavior treatment for delinquent and/or dependent male youth ages 11 to 16.

The program is designed to be 12 months in length. The clinical program is facilitated by three master’s level clinicians and overseen by an experienced program manager. The program is based on a four phase curriculum:

Phase I: Introduction, Disclosure of problematic behaviors and Fire Safety Training

Phase II: Critical Beginning Skills (Impulse Control and Affect Management)

Phase III: Critical Intermediate Skills (Criminal Personality Theory, Cognitive Distortions, Moral Reasoning, and Developing Empathy)

Phase IV: Critical Advanced Skills (Triggers and Cues, Victim Cycles, and Relapse Prevention)

The following assessments are administered to youth in the program:

  • FRAT-Y – Firesetting Risk Assessment Tool for Youth
  • ERASOR: Estimate of Risk of Adolescent Sexual Offense Recidivism - Sexual Offender specific
  • Casey Life Skills
  • Psychiatric evaluation at intake and discharge

Residents learn to take responsibility for their behaviors, develop a thorough understanding of their offense cycle and deviant arousal patterns, explore the life experiences that may have contributed to their behaviors, increase their awareness of others and the impact of their behaviors, and develop a relapse prevention plan as they prepare to transition from the program.

Due to the age range of the population served in the Open Residential Program, as well as the fact that residents are treated in an open environment, special consideration is paid to the potential risks to other residents and to the community and is a significant factor in determining the appropriateness of placement.

The treatment process at Abraxas is designed to address these issues with youth in an individualized manner. We work with each youth to develop healthy boundaries, establish appropriate attachments, cultivate age appropriate social skills, expand coping strategies, process trauma, and develop an understanding of and correctives for their behaviors. Residents are provided with numerous age-appropriate and experiential learning techniques to express themselves in more socially appropriate ways. This includes community service events, field trips and challenge course activities.

Different firesetters require different treatment approaches; This is NOT a ‘ONE SIZE FITS ALL’ clinical population. The below listed juvenile firesetter typology can be used to help recognize behaviors and begin to identify treatment needs. Effective outcomes are even more frequent when we carefully match treatment intensity to the seriousness of the juvenile firesetter’s problems.

Curious or Accidental Younger children who do not understand the basics of fire such as it hurts, it spreads, etc. Fire Safety Education, including their caretakers (when possible). Possible counseling/therapy to help the child deal with the impact of their fire when indicated.
Crisis/Cry for Help Children who use firesetting as a method (however distorted) to manage or resolve a crisis situation. Either they do not know how to get help or have psychological impediments to getting help. Fire Safety Education, social service and/or counseling/therapy to resolve the underlying crisis. Relapse prevention so that future crisis situations do not lead to firesetting recidivism.
Delinquent Usually middle school aged, these children derive pleasure from their intent to be destructive and the anti-authority aspect of setting a fire. Usually set fire with peers Implementation of legal and financial consequences. Education regarding other potential and realistic consequences. Balanced and Restorative Justice initiatives such as restitution, containment when safety needs to be ensured and possible highly structured residential care in more serious cases.
Revenge* Children, usually teenagers, who use fire to obtain revenge. This is easy to ascertain when the revenge is direct but more difficult to discern when the target is random. Consequences for setting the fire are necessary. Residential care is often necessary. Treatment should focus on down regulation of anger as well as exploration of other underlying emotions that magnify anger (fear, shame, hurt, etc).
Maladaptive Coping* For these teenagers, firesetting becomes a solution to feelings of alienation, poor self-esteem, anxiety, and the like. Residential care is frequently indicated. Work must focus on removing fire from being a solution to in-depth psychological problems. These problems will also require considerable clinical work.
Fire Fascination* These teenagers have almost always had an interest in fire as youngsters and, as they develop, their interest in fire grows with them to become quite unhealthy. They psychologically ‘light up’ when seeing or thinking of fire. Residential care is usually required. These teenagers need to be externally curtailed from stimulating their fire interest until they can quell this fascination internally. They require considerable clinical care.
Thrill Seeking* These teenagers get equal enjoyment from their firesetting as they do from their attempts to elude being caught. Their firesetting usually rapidly progresses to become more and more serious. Highly structured residential care is mandated to interrupt their progressive firesetting and to clinically deal with underlying issues.
Complex Firesetters* These teenagers will have a combination of types of firesetting sub-types. They thus have an all too high psychological interest in firesetting and use fire to regulate themselves in complex ways. Highly structured residential care with intensive clinical care is necessary.

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The on-site school is a private elementary and secondary school licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Residents attend school daily and can earn credits that can be transferred. The program has certified Special Education teachers on staff.

Upon arrival, students are assessed and placed in the elementary/middle school or the high school classrooms depending on their age and ability level. Both classrooms are designed to closely parallel public school practices to ensure positive academic performance upon discharge from the program. Cooperative learning and hands on manipulatives are commonly used to supplement lessons. Students visit the on-site library to encourage reading and literacy improvement outside of the classroom. Students are consistently rewarded for academic accomplishment, achieving honor roll and maintaining positive behavior in the classroom. For older or more academically advanced students, preparation programs are offered along with PSAT and SAT testing to prepare for post-secondary education.

Experiential education opportunities are available through our Leadership Experiential Adventure Program (LEAP) which provides experiential learning opportunities, adventure-based programming, community service, restitution, vocational programming an workforce development opportunities.

Download the PACTT Matrix

The program has numerous community partnerships which provide educational opportunities, community awareness/ engagement, and community service hours. In 2018, residents completed nearly 1000 hours of community service. Residents and staff of the Open Residential Program support the local and surrounding communities by participating in service leaning projects at: Knick Knack Pittie Pack Animal Shelter; Antietam Animal Shelter; East Coast Exotic Animal Rescue; and local Therapeutic Riding Center.

The Abraxas Open Residential Firesetting and Sexual Behavior Treatment Program recognizes the value of having families involved and informed throughout admission and the treatment process. Family engagement at the facility can be achieved in a variety of ways to strengthen the family relationships and build a stronger foundation for the child's return home. Families are encouraged to stay involved through visitation, conferences and regularly scheduled phone contacts. Assistance for families is provided as needed and includes video conferencing, transportation, overnight accommodations and financial gas assistance. Upon a youth’s arrival at the program, families will be contacted and provided information on how they can stay involved throughout their child's time in treatment.

Accreditations & Certifications

PREA Facility

Open Res is a certified PREA Facility

Sanctuary Institute

Open Res has partnered with the Sanctuary Institute for clinical and organizational change


Open Res is affiliated with the Pennsylvania Academic Career/Technical Training Alliance