Criminal exploitation of child protection-involved youth

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Background: While at higher risk, child protection-involved youth are the subject of negligible research focusing on the criminal exploitation of children by adults. Purpose: This exploratory study examines criminal exploitation of ‘crossover’ children, those traversing the child protection and youth justice systems, in Victoria Australia. It examines the relationships, processes, and criminal activity related to child criminal exploitation amongst crossover children, and canvasses current legal and welfare responses to this phenomenon. Methods: Twenty-five interview and focus group consultations were undertaken with 87 child welfare, legal, justice, and education key stakeholders. Examples of child criminal exploitation were also identified from a case file audit crossover children (n = 300) appearing before three children's courts. Results: Child criminal exploitation emerged as an issue in fifty percent (n = 12/25) of interview and focus group consultations. Participants regularly described this exploitation of crossover children by strangers, ‘romantic’ partners, and family members. Children in residential care and those with neurodisability were identified as vulnerable subgroups, with sexual exploitation and substance abuse operating as key facilitators of criminal exploitation. Legal and welfare responses included the use of intervention orders against exploiters, alongside child protection and secure welfare interventions with children. Conclusions: Child criminal exploitation is an identified concern for child protection-involved youth and other children who appear before criminal courts in the study jurisdiction. Findings demonstrate a need for a clear conceptualisation of child criminal exploitation, both locally and globally, that captures the scope of this phenomenon. Evidence-supported frameworks for identifying, preventing, and responding to child criminal exploitation are required to minimise detrimental legal and developmental impacts on children.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105396
Number of pages9
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Child criminal exploitation
  • Child protection
  • Child welfare
  • Crossover youth
  • Juvenile justice
  • Victimization

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