A scary look at how America deals with homeless, delinquent, disturbed, and handicapped youngsters, and at the ""ineptness of government acting as parent."" The book grew out of reporter Taylor's exposÃ‰ of California's Kate School, where retarded and autistic children were routinely beaten and shocked with electric cattle prods in furtherance of the school managers' ""confrontation therapy"" approach. Unbelievably, it took over five years of administrative proceedings and litigation to get Kate School closed, and Taylor's account of state officials' foot-dragging is a classic study of it's-not-my-job bureaucratic apathy. And that's just the point, says Taylor: ""nonaccountability"" pervades the system. (A California official: ""The problem is you can't deal with the problem."") As a result, horror stories abound: nondelinquent kids turned bad by prolonged institutionalization; physical abuse; money-skimming and shady self-dealing schemes by operators of profit-making group homes. Many states farm out their worst juvenile problems to institutions in other states, and then not infrequently lose track of the transferred children. Ongoing review of juvenile facilities' operations by state licensing authorities hardly exists and, for various reasons, bureaucrats are timid about ""pulling"" licenses (""If I close the place down,"" says one, ""where will the kids go?""). The current ""deinstitutionalization"" trend has a superficial appeal (liberals see it as humane, conservatives see it as cheaper); but Taylor argues that the process simply shifts the same set of problems from big institutions to small ones, and that any economies must come at the expense of the children involved. Taylor traces the whole mess to two fundamental problems: the absence of any sort of a national children's policy, and a system that encourages institutionalization of problem children and the separation of parent and child (much more federal and state aid is available, for example, if the child is taken out of the home). Solutions? Taylor points to Sweden's example (a clear national welfare policy, more caring treatment, an emphasis on keeping disturbed kids at home) and calls for a similar reordering of our own priorities. Occasionally strident (re corporate dominance of government as responsible for the child welfare problem) and somewhat naive--but, on the whole, a useful journalistic overview.