Welsh Assembly plans for its youth and pupil participation division to take over the service have alarmed youth workers. They say the plans fail to live up to ministers' vision for youth work.
Jane Davidson, the Welsh education minister, insists the new arrangements will give youth services better support but professionals disagree. They say the Assembly has failed to appreciate the work the agency has done - for example, involving a vast range of mainly unpaid professionals in youth work. They claim the new service will be more bureaucratic and less responsive.
The criticisms come as the Community and Youth Workers Union's (CYWU) latest research reveals that Wales has been "starved" of youth workers. It says that in England there is, on average, one full-time-equivalent youth worker for every 400 young people, but the Welsh ratio ranges from 1:433 in Monmouthshire to 1:3,182 in Ceredigion.
Extreme variations in funding are also revealed. In Ceredigion, core spending for each 13 to 19-year-old is just pound;18.14 compared with Powys, where it is pound;113.67. "A lot of youth services haven't had their slice of cake at local level," said Doug Nicholls general secretary of the CYWU Mr Nicholls said that Ms Davidson had failed to implement properly the original 2001 youth policy Extending Entitlement, which met with wide approval. "The policy is very progressive - the essence is to establish young people's partnerships." But, he said, local authorities had not translated policy into practice well enough John Rose, the agency's acting chief executive, agreed. He said good practices were being interfered with for the sake of new policy.
Mr Rose suggested the work of the agency was being hampered by governments in Westminster and Cardiff "fixated with academic achievement" and said creative work was being squeezed out by "form filling".
He also pointed out that half of full-time Welsh youth workers are unqualified, compared with just 10 per cent in England.