D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, in less than two years, has made three separate high-profile announcements that his administration would use new coordinated programs to break the cycle of poverty, drugs and crime in which many District youths are trapped.

"Our youth are our future. And our future is in jeopardy," Barry said in April 1986. "I want to assure the citizens of this community that this administration is exerting leadership, is being forceful, and with their support, we will solve the dilemma with which we are faced."

Back then Barry called his plan a "bold, new, innovative program." Two months later, Barry followed up with another "new" youth program, entitled Operating Services Assisting Youth.

Then last week in his State of the District address, the mayor launched yet another new initiative. Labeled "Invest in Our Future," the program is designed to stabilize youths determined to be "at risk" and to keep young people out of the criminal justice system.

But in the 18 months since Barry's first announcement, officials who work with youth programs say, not only has the cycle not been broken, but also city agencies have spent a great deal of time unsnarling bureaucratic red tape in the effort to create programs to make Barry's promises a reality.

Barry's staff says the April 1986 announcement was, in effect, only a statement of intent to assemble the pieces of a comprehensive approach over time. After extensive research and planning, they pledge, the pieces are now in place.

"The mayor sends out directives about a bold new approach and that is a message {to his staff} that he wants you to get moving," said Audrey Rowe, the mayor's special assistant for human resources development. "We figure out what needs to be done and what the pieces are. That process just doesn't happen in one day. It happens over a period of time."

Barry's plans call for new levels of coordination among agencies dealing with youths, such as the police, schools and human services department. But in trying to reshape the bureaucracy, city officials say they often have encountered delays and the unexpected.

For example, a law protecting the confidentiality of juveniles has meant that police could not inform schools about arrested youths, thereby hampering efforts to help those youths, officials said.

In addition, plans to establish a central computer tracking system for juveniles was delayed when officials realized that the computer systems used by various city agencies were not compatible.

In one instance, Rowe said, a film program intended to warn children about drug abuse was undermined because parents were afraid to send their children to recreation centers where the films were shown. City officials had to increase police enforcement near recreation centers to allay the parents' fears related to belief that the centers were in high drug-trafficking areas.

Meanwhile, city officials are increasingly aware of the need for prevention programs that work. The number of juvenile drug arrests, possibly influenced by the effects of the police department's antidrug Operation Clean Sweep, increased from 1,111 in fiscal 1986 to 1,658 in fiscal 1987.

Also, city officials are disturbed that younger juveniles are getting involved in drugs.

On Tuesday, a 12-year-old girl armed with a starter's pistol tried to rob a Northeast dry cleaners because she needed money to buy cocaine, according to police sources. On the same day, two 14-year-olds were arrested in a Northeast Washington motel with $48,000 worth of PCP and cocaine, police said.

Between fiscal 1984 and fiscal 1987, the drug arrests of children 12 years old and younger went from 0 to 35, said Police Youth Division Capt. David Bostrum.

Bostrum said the key to helping children is targeting those who are likely to get in trouble and who are already in trouble. Although many of the city's prevention efforts have relied on seminars and the distribution of literature, Bostrum said, such methods miss many juveniles.

"With seminars, to some degree, you are preaching to the converted," he said. "Kids who go are probably already inclined not to abuse drugs, and the kids who often need it are not getting it."

Internal Barry administration documents show that the mayor has long recognized the need to have so-called diversion programs that provide special counseling and monitoring for the at-risk group of arrested youths.

The problem has been in implementing such plans. A program that Barry announced Tuesday to divert youths arrested for minor offenses originally was to be started in 1986, according to one planning document.

In the past two years, during which the District's Department of Human Services has had no formal diversion program, more than 4,400 children who were arrested for minor offenses were not referred to any special program, officials said. Instead, diversion often amounted to an informal talk given by a police officer.

Barry has had more success in running youth employment programs. During recent summers, more than 20,000 young people between the ages of 14 and 21 have been employed by the Summer Youth Employment Program, aimed at enhancing work habits and skills.

Meanwhile, some officials who work with the city's youth prevention programs acknowledge that they are facing an uphill battle.

"Drug abuse prevention is as complicated as being a good parent," said George C. McFarland, acting chief for prevention and education in the District's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Administration.

"Few people can tell you what the prescription is," he said. "Our modest programs are working against a billion-dollar drug industry. The best we can hope for right now is to stabilize the {drug} situation so that it does not get worse."