A strategy for the long-term future of youth services published by the Local Government Association states that local-level leadership and vision for youth services should "ideally operate within a framework established by a clear and ambitious national vision for young people".
"Young people need to know that they are an important consideration in national policy, and that they will receive services to support them towards the same positive outcomes wherever they are in the country," it states.
"However, there is currently no clear national vision or policy around services for young people. Neither youth services nor young people are listed in the department's priorities or in the minister's role on the departmental website, and we are concerned that this fails to reflect the government's stated ambitions and commitment to young people.
"It also does not give effective or sufficient direction required to support and engage with such a vital part of our society. We consider it essential that youth policy has a far higher profile in government in the future, to provide leadership to the sector and a voice to young people."
The warning comes just weeks after the government confirmed that plans for a new three-year youth policy statement have been dropped.
The LGA strategy also sets out six key principles for effective youth services. It states that:
- young people's voices should be central to the provision offered to them
- young people should feel included in their local area and be able to access the support they need
- young people should be a valued and respected part of the community whose needs and wishes are considered equally with those of other groups
- good quality services should be provided by staff with appropriate safeguarding training
- services should empower young people to progress and engage in employment, education and training
- services should be strengths-based and focus on developing the skills and attributes of young people
The strategy makes a number of other recommendations, including that part of the budget for the government's National Citizen Service initiative be handed to councils to pay for local youth work.
The government has set aside £1.2bn to deliver the NCS up to 2020, but the LGA said part of this budget should be used to help support cash-strapped local youth services and ensure young people have access to properly funded provision.
According to figures published by the House of Commons library last month, following a request by the Labour Party, spending on youth services has dropped by more than half (53.6 per cent) since 2011/12.
"The government should allocate a proportion of the funding dedicated to the National Citizen Service directly to councils for them to dedicate to supporting local youth services," the strategy states.
In October the campaign group In Defence of Youth Work also called for part of the NCS's budget to be moved into open youth work. It has said that a third of the NCS budget, around £420m, should be reallocated in light of the NCS recruitment target being reduced by nearly a third earlier this year.
The LGA also wants government to "explicitly include responsibility for young people within a ministerial portfolio to establish a champion for young people and ensure co-ordination of policy across all departments".
In addition, the LGA is calling on government to offer further help for young people by providing long-term investment in early intervention services. The LGA also wants the NCS Trust, which manages the NCS, to work more closely with councils on the design and delivery of the service.
In October the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport issued guidance to councils asking them to help promote NCS to young people.
National Youth Agency chief executive Leigh Middleton has praised the LGA's strategy for showing "essential leadership on this often overlooked area".
"All citizens require services which are designed for them; their interests and their needs," he said.
"Yet for young people going through teenage years, youth services and youth work perform an essential service, helping young people understand who they are, how they relate to others, and ultimately help them transition successfully into adulthood. It's far more than just something to do and somewhere to go."