Child Criminal Exploitation

The teenage years are a time of great change for young people.  As they develop their own identity they move closer to their peers and naturally become more independent. It is also at this time that they are more likely to be impulsive and take risks.

This behaviour is perfectly normal, however organised crime groups and sometimes individuals, can use this time to their advantage and see the young person as someone who can be easily manipulated or intimidated into doing illegal activities. This can lead to child criminal exploitation.

Parents and carers are often the first to notice the early signs that their child is at risk of or is being exploited.  You might notice that your child is behaving differently, over and above what you would expect from typical teenage behaviour.

Here are some of the signs to be aware of:

  • Behaviour – A sudden change in attitude. Have they become secretive and disrespectful to members of the family, teachers, or others they usually get on with?
  • Distant – Are they showing signs of harm or depression? Are there unexplained absences from school?
  • Money/new things – Do they seem to have money which they can’t explain where it has come from? Have you seen them using a new phone, either an expensive smart phone or more likely a very cheap phone, or wearing new or designer clothes or jewellery?
  • Unusual items – Have you found unusual items in the house such as a balaclava, debit cards, drugs, drug paraphernalia  or weapons?
  • Calls and contacts – Are they receiving calls and messages more frequently and at all hours of the day? Do they react immediately when they receive the message? Do they have a new group of friends who you don’t know or who may seem older?
  • Journeys – Have you found evidence such as bus or train tickets, which show that they have been making frequent and repeat trips to places they wouldn’t normally go?  Do they often leave home without an explanation of where they are going? Do they go out or come home at unusual or very regular times?

There may be many reasons for a change in your child’s behaviour and it might not be anything to worry about.  However, if you notice a combination of the above signs and you are concerned, it might be time to seek help or advice.

What is child criminal exploitation?

Children and young people can be exploited by organised crime groups or individuals who groom them into believing they have built up a friendship, but then force, manipulate or coerce the young person into criminal activities such as transporting, storing or selling drugs, money laundering, theft and violence.

The young person often doesn’t realise they are being exploited. They are led to believe that the person exploiting them is their friend, as they are often offered gifts such as money, cigarettes, drugs and alcohol. The young person may also feel their new ‘friend’ has status in the community and enjoy the sense of belonging to a new group of peers.

Types of Child Criminal Exploitation

There are many different crime types which come under the heading of child criminal exploitation and the names of these change all the time. Some examples include:

Money laundering – Also known as ‘Money Mules’ or ‘Squaring’.
This is where the young person is asked to use their own bank account to hold or move money that has been involved in criminal activity. 

Child sexual exploitation
This is the organisation and deliberate exploitation of a child for the sexual gratification of adults. It can take place in person or over the internet.

County lines
Organised crime groups take advantage of young people and use them to move drugs around the country.

This is where crime groups take over someone’s address, usually as a place to store, supply or produce drugs from. 

Any child can be targeted by these groups or individuals, regardless of their gender, background or where they live. It is never the fault of the young person or their parents or carers.

How to help before your child becomes a target

  • Speak to your child and make them aware of the risks. Let them know that this can happen to any child, including them.
  • Warn them not to accept money, food or favours from someone they don’t know well, or if it doesn’t feel right.
  • Make time every day to talk with your child and listen to what is happening in their life, including who they are friends with – both in person and online.

If you are worried about a young person and are concerned for their safety

West Yorkshire Police has specially trained officers in Safeguarding Units across the county who can help. Call 101 in a non-emergency. Call 999 in an emergency, where a crime is in progress or there is a danger to life.

If you would rather not speak to the Police there are other people who can offer help and advice:

  • Talk to a teacher or School Liaison Officer at your child’s school.
  • You can speak to your GP or nurse.
  • Speak to your Family Support Worker if you have one.
  • Contact your local Children’s Services

There are also charities who specialise in this area:

Childline 0800 1111

NSPCC 0808 800 5000

Crimestoppers 0800 555111

Childrens Society 

SPACE – Stop & Prevent Adolescent Criminal Exploitation 



Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation 0113 240 304 

Yorkshire MESMAC 0113 2444209 

The Lucy Faithfull Foundation 

The Marie Collins Foundation 

Safer Lives 0800 043 5987 

This YouTube video from PACE (Parents Against Child Exploitation) shows parents talking about the changes they noticed in their child in relation to Child Exploitation.

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