An unusually levelheaded and perceptive view of the so-called child welfare system. Hubner, a reporter with the San Jose Mercury News, and Wolfson, a freelance journalist (and former probation officer), live in California's Santa Clara County, site of Silicon Valley and the boomtown of San Jose, now the 11th-largest city in the country. Despite its flourishing economy, San Jose is burdened with all the usual societal problems, including juvenile delinquency and child abuse. With the cooperation of the presiding judge of the county juvenile court, the authors were given access to usually confidential court, probation, and child welfare agency records, and they have produced a fascinating insider's view of the mesh of policy, precedent, legislation, and social gestalt that shapes how children in trouble are treated. They interviewed not only children at risk, but their families, friends, teachers, foster parents, and counselors. Neither awash in bathos nor steeped in cynicism, their report focuses on a number of individuals, including Jenny, a teenage mother fighting to keep her baby; Nicky, a baby born prematurely with cocaine and alcohol in his frail system; and Corey, a 15-year-old who stabbed a counselor to death. These stories gain dimension by being set within the larger perspective of America's roller-coaster attitudes toward out-of-control children, a review of often confusing social welfare policy (preserve the family and keep the children safe--sometimes mutually exclusive goals), and an understanding, if not always sympathetic, look at the difficult roles of social workers, attorneys, and prison staff. Despite increasing political pressure to punish juvenile offenders with long prison terms, the authors produce impressive statistics to show that incarceration doesn't work and that intensive, long-term therapy in small, controlled settings does. Balanced, informative, and often very sad, not only in the tragic stories but in the picture of a system that seems close to being overwhelmed.