Child criminal exploitation is when someone uses a child (under 18 years old) to commit crimes for them.
It includes things like forcing a child to work on a cannabis farm, or targeting, grooming, coercing and exploiting a child to sell drugs in county lines operations.
Child criminal exploitation can involve bribery, intimidation, violence and/or threats. The child does not need to have met whoever is exploiting them - children can be exploited via the internet or using mobile phones.
They can also be targeted via social media platforms and gaming forums.
A child may have been exploited even if it looks as if they have been a willing participant. Many young people do not see themselves as victims.
Children can be exploited by individuals or groups, men or women, and adults or young people.
People who exploit children use the fact that they have power over children, because of an age difference or some other factor like gender, intelligence, strength, status or wealth.
Who is likely to be exploited
Any child can be a victim of child criminal exploitation, not just those who are known to social care or local authorities. But risk factors include:
neglect or abuse
not having a safe and stable home
social isolation or other social difficulties
connections with people involved in gangs or crime
mental health issues
alcohol or drug problems
being in care
being excluded from mainstream education
Signs of exploitation
Signs to look out for include:
displaying aggressive/violent behaviours
often going missing from home or school and being found away from their normal area
unexplained money, clothes, designer wear, jewellery, gadgets or mobile phones
having multiple mobile phones
getting lots of phone calls or texts
use and/or possession of drugs and/or alcohol
possession of hotel key cards/keys
relationships with older people
abandoning friends and their social circle
school performance getting worse
changes in well-being
significant emotional changes (like becoming angry or sad), or becoming fearful, withdrawn or isolated
using different language/terminology
new peer groups and/or relationships with unknown associates
Any sudden change in a young person’s lifestyle could be because of criminal exploitation and you should talk to them about it
Risks of exploitation
emotional and physical harm
criminalisation resulting in custodial sentences, criminal records
risk to siblings
forced to live in cuckooed properties (see link to the county lines page which makes reference to cuckooing
being excluded from education
Advice for children
If you are worried about a friend or concerned about your own welfare
It can be really worrying if you know someone who is in a gang or you think you may be being exploited. You don't have to cope with things on your own.
If you suspect someone of criminally exploiting children, or think someone you know has been or is at risk of becoming a victim find out how to report possible child abuse.
If someone is in immediate danger and needs urgent help please call 999 now. If you have a hearing or speech impairment, use our text phone service 18000 or text us on 999 if you’ve pre-registered with the emergency SMS service.