The report, unveiled at a conference in Edinburgh, revealed that the cost in Scotland is a conservatively estimated Pounds 730 million a year, almost 40 times the Pounds 20 million spent each year on youth work by councils and the voluntary sector.
But a narrow focus on youth work and crime prevention is not the answer, according to the report drawn up by consultant Coopers and Lybrand in collaboration with the Scottish Community Education Council and Youth Link Scotland.
John Lakin of Coopers and Lybrand says effective youth work "has the potential to make an impact on youth crime". But the report acknowledges that even less is being spent on the service as a result of local government reorganisation, with full-time staff posts frozen or abolished.
Arwyn Thomas, director of the Prince's Trust - Action, says youth crime "can marginalise young people". The report calls on the Scottish Office to give a stronger lead. Responsibility for youth and criminal issues is split across four departments which is "a barrier to effective co-ordination".
The study does not advocate a specific national youth crime strategy and suggests that this "is unlikely to command widespread support from youth work practitioners, who either do not use the term crime prevention or prefer to see their work in a wider and more positive light. It cuts across the trend towards a multi-agency approach to community safety which is wider than young people and youth crime."
Despite financial restraints work with a crime prevention focus is on the increase, local youth forums are being set up and collaborative work such as youth contributions to police training is growing.
Good inter-agency links are one of the key ingredients in effective youth work, the report found. Others include adequate funding, a safe place for young people to meet, making youngsters party to decision-making and good staff.
None the less the study did not find convincing evidence about the impact of youth projects, five of which are highlighted, on crime prevention.
One statistic is, however, all too stark: 37 per cent of all recorded crimes in Scotland are committed by young people aged between eight and 20. The peak age for referrals to children's panel Reporters is 15.