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Warning signs of child criminal exploitation

Young people are exploited in a wide range of ways.

Exploiters teach young people to hide what they are being manipulated or coerced into doing. This makes it difficult for parents to spot the signs.

It can be difficult to spot the signs of child criminal exploitation due to the normal behaviour changes linked to becoming a teenager. However, these signs show that all is not well in your child’s world.

Exploiters may tell young people that they’ll get into trouble if they ‘snitch’, that they will be arrested, or their parents will get into trouble. These are all techniques to stop you and your child from asking for help and support.

Whatever your child is experiencing, they are not to blame: their exploiters are. Reassure your child and listen to them without judgement.

Changes to their behaviour and emotional wellbeing

Your child may be nervous, withdrawn, frightened, or worried, and experience nightmares or difficulties sleeping. They may have violent mood swings, becoming withdrawn, aggressive, or distant from you and other family members.

They may be nervous every time someone knocks at the door, or when you go out. They may be anxious of certain people or places.

Your child’s school may contact you with concerns about their behaviour, and they may be temporarily or permanently excluded. If your child has additional learning needs, they may be vulnerable due to their willingness to trust others, or difficulties in making friends.

Lies, deception, and power in their relationships

You may notice them having to go out whenever they receive a phone call or message.

Your child may lie or be secretive about phone calls, friends, or where new clothes and belongings have come from. They may be vague or unwilling to tell you what happened to cause cuts, bruises, or other physical injuries.

Your child may appear to be under the control of an adult or an older youth.

The exploiters may have convinced your child that you do not love or care about them, and that their new friends are their ‘family’. Your child may disappear or run away for hours, days, or weeks.

Information for parents

Advice for parents concerned that their children are experiencing child criminal exploitation.

Exploiters’ tactics

Understand how exploiters target young people and what exploited children experience.