Because around one in every seven social worker posts is vacant, there is a 'real risk' that the£60m allocated for youth justice by 2006 will be impossible to spend.
'The objectives for youth justice cannot be achieved without having sufficient staff who possess the right skills to do this work,' said Bob Black, auditor general for
According to Audit Scotland, it took an average of five and a half months for a child to reach a children's hearing, while a court decision on a young person aged over 16 took an average of eight months.
Questions were raised about the reconviction rates under the existing system, and the proportion of the budget dedicated to prosecuting young offenders rather than tackling offending behaviour.
Jim Dickie, director of social work at North Lanarkshire Council - where the vacancy rate for social workers was the highest in Scotland at 27% - said: 'The difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff to work in the childcare sector is part of a national shortage of social workers in all
disciplines, and childcare is a particularly challenging field as staff are dealing with some of the most vulnerable children in our society.'
He added that North Lanarkshire offered newly qualified social workers a salary two points above the basic salary scale.