Tom Wylie told the Council of Local Education Authorities, which represents councils south of the border: "We need urgently to close the gaps of underachievement, to bring many more young people into the social political, economic and educational mainstream.
"We can, as a nation, continue producing young consumers rather than active citizens. We can endure the regular 'slow riot' of violence, drug misuse or adolescent criminality. Or we can embrace this agenda of social renewal: the achieving school, the empowering youth group, the inclusive community, the enabling state."
Guarantees to young people might include the provision of a safe, warm, well-equipped meeting place within a bus ride, easy access to reliable information, planned opportunities to develop personal skills, opportunities to take part each month in drama, music, sport and voluntary action, a key worker to give support in a crisis, and a youth forum.
Youth work services should be more active in promoting supported study, activities to discourage crime and programmes to encourage effective training and healthy living.
Mr Wylie admitted: "Youth work is often seen as rather low-level recreational provision or therapeutic conversations carried out in careworn, shabby premises."