Youth work is failing older teenagers and the most vulnerable, according to one of the most significant pieces of research on young Scots ever published.
Only a week after the Prime Minister launched his task force on social exclusion, the findings underline the difficulties in bringing young people at risk back into the mainstream.
Researchers from Glasgow University and the Scottish Council for Research in Education stress that socio-economic exclusion is not being tackled through informal education, although youth workers say this is a priority.
They also question much of current youth work practice and say the most vulnerable tend to bypass traditional youth clubs and groups. These appeal more to middle-class young people and younger teenagers. Truants and those excluded from school have little to do with youth groups.
The research found that many young people with varied and active social lives hang around the streets. Eight in 10 girls and more than seven in 10 boys spend time hanging around. The older ones want to get out of the house and are easily drawn into a culture of petty crime, vandalism, drugs, drink, smoking and conflict with the police. Youth clubs help to get them off the streets but only tend to run twice a week.
There is "some evidence" youth workers in detached settings and in alternative provision such as youth cafes and drop-in centres can help cut crime and the abuse of drink and drugs. The researchers want money transferred from crime control to prevention through youth projects.
Their plea is supported by evidence from the Prince's Trust which earlier this year warned that 40 per cent of crimes are committed by young people under the age of 20, at a cost of around Pounds 730 million a year.
The Scottish Office-funded study, by Andy Furlong and Fred Cartmel of Glasgow University and Janet Powney and Stuart Hall of the research council, took 18 months to complete and looked at 13 to 16-year-olds in six disadvantaged urban and rural areas. Interviews involved 1,135 secondary pupils.
Dr Furlong told a conference in Glasgow: "Many organisations which work with young people have not changed very much since the 1940s and 1950s but young people have."
Youth work in areas of multiple disadvantage had failed to keep pace with changes in the way young people developed, he said. It was geared to the time when the client group was much younger and the transition from child to adult more rapid and predictable.
"Although there is a variety of service and facilities provided for young people," the authors state, "individuals are likely to have relatively little choice of accessible youth work provision and services for older teenagers tend to be poor."
Evaluating Youth Work with Vulnerable Young People is published by the Scottish Council for Research in Education, 15 John Street, Edinburgh EH8 8JR, price Pounds 11.50.