Despite its pioneering policy Extending Entitlement, which compels local authorities to provide for young people, many councils fall short, claims a new consultation document.
"Current provision needs to be enhanced," says Towards a national youth service strategy for Wales.
The youth service has links with around 200,000 of Wales's 575,000 young people. But the Assembly government says local authority funding for youth work is negligible when measured against the time young people spend out of school. Latest figures, for 2003-4, showed income for the maintained youth service sector at just under pound;30 million.
Local authority provision is variable. In some areas youth work is viewed as part of the community safety agenda. Numbers of qualified youth workers also vary among the 22 councils.
Most of the workforce is part-time - 3,200, with just 470 full-timers and managers. But part-timers are disadvantaged by lack of training, support and resources.
Doug Nicholls, national secretary of the community and youth workers union, said: "We hope this will lead to the Assembly being able to intervene where local authorities aren't making progress."
* Towards a national youth service strategy for Wales, consultations close January 26, see www.new.wales.gov.ukconsultations