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Minors & Adolescents

Due to their dependence on or attachment to traffickers, minor victims may be less likely to self-identify and may have difficulty providing information about the circumstances of their trafficking. Minors are damaged by psychological trauma at deeper levels than adults and may find it even harder than adults to confide in authorities about painful and intimate events.

Additional Resources: Read Guidance to States and Services on Addressing Human Trafficking of Children and Youth in the United States from the Department of Health and Human Services. The Child Welfare Information Gateway also contains other resources on human trafficking of children with state and local examples.

Other useful resources include the National Children’s AllianceThe National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and the Capacity Building Center for States

Specific vulnerabilities of minors make them targets of traffickers. Those include:

  • Emotional vulnerabilities (feeling lonely, desperate to belong, needing love)
  • Poverty (need to migrate in order to work, take care of family, pay for education)
  • Aspects that make minors “different” and an outcast within their community (sexual orientation, disability, new to a setting)
  • Limited support and violence in the home (runaway or throwaway, lack of parental supervision, neglect, physical or sexual abuse at home)

There are significant intersections between child maltreatment, delinquency, and human trafficking. Victims of trafficking are often involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Service providers have identified that the same risk factors that contribute to child maltreatment make these children vulnerable to the power of traffickers. It is also increasingly recognized that children who have been maltreated have a greater risk of juvenile delinquency, particularly when their trauma is left untreated and unresolved, making youth in the juvenile justice system also vulnerable to the power of traffickers. Youth may present to various systems as compliant or participatory in criminal acts when, in fact, they are victims of human trafficking. Additionally, minors are often compelled by traffickers to engage in criminal behavior such as drug dealing and prostitution. Given the complicated legal and custodial issues related to minors, it is advisable to invite representatives from child protection, child advocacy centers, and the juvenile justice system to be involved in the task force (see Section 3.1 on Task Force Membership and Management).


Visit Faces of Human Trafficking to view related materials. View the Transcript.

Support for Foreign National and U.S. Citizen Juvenile Victims

Child Protective Services (CPS) programs operate in every state, providing services for children who are abused or neglected, offering case management, establishment of a legal guardian, and housing options including foster families and group homes. For foreign national juveniles, it is important to note that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) administers the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) program. The program establishes legal responsibility, under state law and in coordination with state-level CPS, to ensure that unaccompanied refugee and immigrant minors, including human trafficking victims, receive the full range of assistance, care, and services that are available to all foster children in the state. A legal authority is designated to act in place of the child’s unavailable parent(s).

The Child Welfare Information Gateway, Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families (ACF), HHS, provides a clearinghouse for child welfare professionals and serves as a first stop for organizations that work on child protection/abuse, family and domestic violence, foster care, health, mental health, and substance abuse.

It is important to remember is that regardless of citizenship, children are not required to cooperate with law enforcement to receive assistance. For minor victims who are foreign nationals, there are several forms of short-term and long-term immigration relief available (see Section 4.4 on Civil Legal Needs); cooperation is not required.

Below are some key considerations when working with minor and adolescent victims:

  • Identify an appropriate guardian. In some cases, it is possible to reconnect and build positive ties to family and/or community (which may include family support and reconciliation, if appropriate), while in other cases it may be connecting minors to placement programs such as foster care builds new ties.
  • Utilize the child welfare and protection system. Identify key personnel at your local child welfare office who can assist in navigating the system and obtaining services.
  • Become familiar with the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) in your area. CACs are child-focused, facility-based programs in which representatives from many disciplines, including law enforcement, child protection, prosecution, medical and mental health, victim advocacy, and child advocacy, work together to conduct interviews and make team decisions about investigation, treatment, management, and prosecution of child abuse cases.

    Visit Faces of Human Trafficking to view related materials. View the Transcript.
  • Advocate for a forensic interviewer or law enforcement professional trained in interviewing children and adolescents to conduct the investigative interviews. See Section 5.3 on Building Rapport with the Victim As your Witness to learn about federal law enforcement resources and forensic interviewers.
  • Explore sealing, expunging, or vacating criminal records. A criminal record can create difficult downstream consequences whether the child was arrested, convicted, or both. For example, employers or landlords often ask about criminal offenses, which can lead to roadblocks in obtaining services. Expunging refers to the process of sealing arrest and conviction records, while vacating deletes the records as if they never existed. It is important to check your state and county criminal court or the law enforcement agency in the task force to determine how offenses are expunged.
  • Identify programs that are unique and interesting for minors. Many service providers have developed programs that help minors self-identify, avoid risky behavior, develop new skills, and use peer-to-peer groups to foster new healthy relationships. These may include after-school programs, homeless and runaway outreach teams, and youth drop-in centers.
  • Most communities have multidisciplinary coalitions focused on issues affecting youth, which can be an excellent source of information when creating a comprehensive services web, as well as many additional trained eyes and ears for identifying trafficked youth.

For additional information and tools, visit the Resource page for Section 4.5 Victim Populations.