The government is looking at a plan for young offenders as old as 19 to be dealt with by the Youth Court, rather than adult courts.
It's one of a number of recommendations being considered by Cabinet as part of a review of how children and young people are dealt with by government agencies.
Currently the Youth Court hears cases involving children aged 16 or younger.
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley told TV3's The Nation Cabinet was cautious about the idea, but it was worth investigating.
When young people are dealt with by adult courts it has costs for them and for the taxpayer, she said.
Mrs Tolley's comments follow a report into how the country's child welfare system should be reformed.
Call to raise age of criminal responsibility
The report, which was released this week, also included the recommendation to lift the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12.
The report said crimes committed by 10 and 11-year-olds were best dealt with through the care and protection system, and lifting the age would bring New Zealand into line with comparable jurisdictions.
However, in a Cabinet paper, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said she did not recommend lifting the age, saying it might send a signal the government did not take offending by children seriously.
The co-chair of youth justice advocacy group Just Speak, Julia Whaipooti, said Mrs Tolley should have shown more compassion.
"The question has got to be: what is happening in this child's life that has brought them to that point. And I think we are just missing the point, and our government is missing the point, and I think the minister has missed the point, that we're talking about children."
Ms Whaipooti said it was good the government was considering extending the Youth Court to include 17-year-olds.
The government has already agreed to many of the recommendations from the report, including raising the age of state care to 18.