The stark challenge facing the most vulnerable youngsters was set out by Douglas Bulloch, chair of the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration.
The latest figures show that the balance between the numbers of young people referred to the children's panel reporter for offences and for care and protection - both at just under the 15,000 mark in 1991 - had changed completely: the total of offending cases reached 15,000 in 2001-02 but those requiring care and protection had soared to 25,000.
Mr Bulloch commented: "Children who offend are often the same children who are in need of care and protection."
The most vulnerable also featured strongly in school exclusion figures. The overall rate last session was 50 per 1,000 pupils, which rose to 109 for those with a record of needs, 120 for pupils entitled to free school meals and 227 for children in council care.
A major study last year showed that 33 per cent of the most vulnerable had been emotionally, physically or sexually abused, 32 per cent had health or disability problems and 13 per cent had mental health difficulties.
But figures included in last week's consultation papers issued by the Executive on the future of the children's hearings system showed that fewer than one child in 100 goes to a hearing and fewer than one in 50,000 is a persistent young offender.
The Executive's consultation opens up the possibility of moving from children's hearings, where the interests of the child is paramount, to family hearings, where the child's welfare is of chief but not overriding concern.