Book Review – They Cage The Animals At Night

The true story of an abandoned child’s struggle for emotional survival

By: Jennings Michael Burch

Disclaimer: This book review is my opinion of the book. If you have a different opinion of the book that is great. I know I have loved several movies and books that other reviewers have not liked and disliked movies and books that receive great reviews. I think we all have. If you would like to submit your own review, I may consider posting it. Thanks.

I can honestly tell you that this book was life changing for me.  I had been a houseparent for over ten years and before I read this book, I was seriously looking for the exit sign.  I was tired; I was frustrated and I was thinking there had to be an easier way to make a living. By the time I was halfway through the book, I didn’t want to put it down and realized there was no other thing I could possibly see myself doing besides caring for the children I care for.

The book is a true story about a child that suddenly finds himself in and out of orphanages, institutions, and fosters homes over about a four year period while his mother was in and out of hospitals battling physical and mental illness.  He has to deal with abandonment as well as a great amount of abuse at the hands of many of those charged with caring for him.  His resilience and strength, as well as the love and influence of a few key individuals, helps him to make it through the ordeal.

This all takes place during the early 1950’s, so the techniques and programs are very different from what you would find today and it makes me thankful I don’t do childcare in the BAD old days.  Reading this book will not give you any new techniques to help you be a better houseparent or childcare worker but it will help you to see the different kinds of people that work caring for children as houseparents and foster parents, and to recognize the kind of person you should want to be.  It did for me.  Though I am convinced that the level of abuse described in this book would never be tolerated today, I believe there are still many of the same kinds of people still doing the work.

The Bad

  • Sister Frances – is a gruff, rough and very direct type of worker.  She is very physical and expects good behavior for convenience (to make her job easier)  She seems to be one those “you have to break-em and then mold-em” kind of people.  She does care about children and at times, shows great compassion but does not appear to respect children.
  • Sister Barbara – appears to not like her work or the children.  She expects perfection from the children to make her job easier.  She rules with fear and is very abusive.
  • Mrs. Abbott – is even more despicable than Sister Barbara.  Not only does she hate her job, rule with fear and abuse children, she also degrades them in such a way that is more damaging than anything physical.

The Good

  • Sister Clair – appears to enjoy her work and working with children.  She is compassionate and respectful to the children.  She is concerned about the problems of the children and takes the time to explain the rules and expectations to the children and why they are needed.
  • Sister Ann Catherine – is much like Sister Clair but more affectionate.

He also lived with three very different sets of foster parents:

  • The Carpenter’s – are the type of foster parents that saw foster care as a business or job.  They are abusive to the children and had no concern for them.  They were only concerned with the money and were pretty good with faking it with social services.
  • The Frazier’s – are the type of foster parents that seemed generally concerned for children.  They felt good about helping a poor disadvantaged child and generally tried to meet his needs.  Though their house staff was very connected, they themselves did not seem to be very emotionally connected to Jennings.
  • The Daly’s – are the type of foster parents that are very concerned with the children.  They are concerned about their emotional as well as their physical needs.  The thing that stands out most about them is that they are willing to make a personal sacrifice to help a child they are caring for.

For those of you that don’t work caring for children, you should know that some of the greatest and most positive influences for Jennings were people he didn’t live with, like:  teachers, a bus driver, a night watchman, policemen, etc.  There were also those that didn’t have such a positive influence on him, like: teachers, social workers, policemen, etc.  You also need to know that things are very different in 2007 than they were in 1952.  We don’t put bars on the windows or barbed wire around the top of the fence to keep children in.  We don’t let one person supervise 30 kids, assign them numbers like prisoners, or make them live in dormitories with 30 or 40 other kids. 

I would recommend this book for any person that works in the foster care system, especially houseparents.  I also think it is a very good to read to get the perspective of a child that has been in the system.  Even though it is dated, I believe most of the children in care today experience many of the same feelings and fears that Jennings did over 50 years ago.  Feelings of loneliness, sorrow, fear, shame, abandonment, and depression are just as painful today as they were back then.  Finally, I also noticed that many of the people that had a positive influence on Jennings were never able to to see the results of their influence.  This is no different than how it is today.  When you are working with disadvantaged children and caring for other people’s children, you may never see the results of your labors.  Being able to see how it has worked for others should help you to keep doing it anyway.

The book is published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group, Inc., New York, NY.  Copyright 1984.  It is currently only available in paperback, but hardcover copies can be found used on Amazon and other places.  It is 293 pages long. 

Click here for more information about this book at Amazon.com

Book Review – No Such Thing As a Bad Kid!

Understanding and Responding to the Challenging Behavior of Troubled Children and Youth

By: Charles D. Appelstein

Disclaimer: This book review is my opinion of the book. If you have a different opinion of the book that is great. I know I have loved several movies and books that other reviewers have not liked and disliked movies and books that receive great reviews. I think we all have. If you would like to submit your own review, I may consider posting it. Thanks.

This is my new #1 recommended book for houseparents and other residential childcare staff.  This book will help you be a better caregiver after the very first chapter.  It will give you a much better understanding of challenging behavior and the cause.  It will teach you skills to prevent challenging behavior as well as interventions to help you respond to challenging behavior.

The book is divided into three parts.  The first part is titled: “Understanding Challenging Behavior” and includes chapters titled:

  • Misbehavior: A Coded Message
  • Responding versus Reacting
  • Developmental Considerations
  • The Quest for Self-Esteem
  • The Need for Consequences

The second part is titled: “Preventing Challenging Behavior” and includes chapters titled:

  • Asking the Right Questions
  • Troubleshooting in Advance
  • The Power of Humor

The last part is titled: “Responding to Challenging Behavior” and includes chapters titled:

  • The Essence of Communication
  • Basic Verbal Interventions
  • Strategic Verbal Interventions
  • Limit Setting
  • Behavior Modification

For those of you that will read the list of chapters and think this book is all about programs and creating rules, read what he has to say about level systems, “Both sides of the level systems debate raise intriguing issues.  Indeed, abandoning the use of a level system is often risky, signaling the need for a more discretionary approach that may disrupt adult-child relationships.  Yet such personalized encounters lie at the foundation of a good treatment plan.  The objective of out-of-home placements, after all, is to therapeutically replicate events that transpire in the youngsters’ homes rather than artificially construct dynamics that will exist only in a corner of their world.
   Ultimately, our task is not to make the job easier, but to prepare kids for success in less supportive environments – settings devoid of level systems and governed by adult decision-making, some which is bound to be unpopular.”

I absolutely recommend this book for anyone that works with children that have difficult behaviors to include foster parents, teachers, coaches, etc.  If you don’t buy it through Amazon, buy it somewhere or check it out from the library and read it.  It will only make you a better houseparent.

Click here for more information about this book at Amazon.com

Book Review – PAIN, NORMALITY and the STRUGGLE for CONGRUENCE

By: James P. Anglin

Disclaimer: This book review is my opinion of the book. If you have a different opinion of the book that is great. I know I have loved several movies and books that other reviewers have not liked and disliked movies and books that receive great reviews. I think we all have. If you would like to submit your own review, I may consider posting it. Thanks.

If you are an administrator at a facility or looking to open a new facility this would be an excellent book to read.  It is basically a summary of a 14 month study the author did of well functioning and not so well functioning group homes in British Columbia, Canada.  Though you may consider texts from outside the US irrelevant to our system, you will be very surprised at how similar the conditions, philosophies, practices are to our system in the US.  Additionally the conditions that make for a well functioning program or facility are universal regardless of where the program is located.

If you are a houseparent looking for a text to help you be a better residential childcare worker, there are probably several others that are better suited for that purpose.  This book is more directed for program managers and supervisors to help them create a program that works toward what is best for the youth in care.

He points out that the program is going to be a reflection of director good or bad all the way down to the children in care and uses his research to make his point.  I can concur that in my experience with several programs that I have worked for or been associated with, that is true.  He also shows how staff training or lack there of has a serious effect on how the youth in care are viewed and treated.  And how the programs with better trained staff were usually more effective at caring for and helping the children.  He also uses his research to show that there is a very definite need for group homes in an era when many people are trying to close them down.

Chapter topics include:

  • Historical and contemporary issues in residential care for children and youth.
  • The staffed group home study; research method and implementation.
  • A theoretical framework for understanding group home life and work
  • Congruence in service of the children’s best interest; the central theme of group home life and work
  • Creating and extrafamilial living environment: the overall task of a group home
  • Responding to pain and pain-based behavior; the major challenge for staff
  • Developing a sense of normality; the primary goal for residents
  • Through the lens of the theoretical framework;  a review of selected residential child and youth care literature
  • Implications for new directions in child and youth care policy development, education, practice, and research.

Though the book provides valuable information, I must tell you that it is not easy reading.  You have to have a desire for the information to want to keep reading.  Additionally, to grasp much of the information you might need to be very above average in intelligence or education, there were several times I had to read and re-read to understand what he was saying or to get the point of the topic.  A few times he completely lost me and some words I just blew off, because I didn’t want to do the research to figure out what they meant. 

My favorite quote from the book is: “There is nothing like poor practice to put good practice into perspective.”  I think we all can relate to this on some level, and the author does a good job of comparing the two. 

This book has a copyright of 2002 so it is one of handful of current writings about residential childcare. Of course it is now 2020 so go figure, I originally wrote this review in 2007.

Click here to buy PAIN, NORMALITY and the STRUGGLE for CONGRUENCE from Amazon.com.

No Such Thing as a Bad Kid

The original version of this book was one of the books I recommended to all houseparents.  I can only imagine that the revised version is that much better.  I am in the process of reading this version and hope to have a review posted for it very soon. However, based on his previous version and other books, I am fairly certain this book will be more than worth the purchase price.

No Such Thing as a Bad Kid

Understanding and Responding to Kids with Emotional and Behavioral Challenges Using a Positive, Strength-Based Approach 

Revised and Updated Edition

by Charles D. Appelstein, MSW

Order Now!

Purchase now, and prior to the books release date, and receive a 15% discount, free shipping, signed copies if desired, and reduced rates for quantity discounts.

Bonus:  Order 25 or more and receive a free copy of our “Power of a  Strength-Based Approach” DVD ($195 value)

We anticipate that the book will be available to the public early in September. It is in the final stages of production.

We accept checks, PO orders, and all major credit cards. School districts or state agencies that purchase with a PO will not be required to pay until the books are received.

Download Preorder Form

Ordering information is also located at www.charliea.com and facebook.com/charlietraining.

Contact Charlie at charlieap@comcast.net   or 877 766-4487

Book Review – The Gus Chronicles II

Reflections from a Kid Who Has Been Abused

By: Charles D. Appelstein, M.S.W. (and Gus E. Studelmeyer)


About: Sexual & Physical Abuse, Residential Treatment, Foster Care, Family Unification and Much More 

Disclaimer: This book review is my opinion of the book. If you have a different opinion of the book that is great. I know I have loved several movies and books that other reviewers have not liked and disliked movies and books that receive great reviews. I think we all have. If you would like to submit your own review, I may consider posting it. Thanks.

The Gus Chronicles II is a continuation of Gus E. Studelmeyer’s stay at a residential treatment center(RTC).  Gus E. Studelmeyer is a fictional character that is living in a residential treatment center(RTC). The author uses a fictional person to address realistic situations in an RTC, and for the most part does a very good job.

The main character “Gus” is the narrator of the book and tells his story as a resident in an RTC. In this book he is mainly helping a new kid “Jay” adjust to residential care and preparing for his own return home to live with his birth mother.  He also interviews and talks with other characters to get their perspective.  Like the fist book this book is easy reading and presents information with little of the psychological speak. It does a good job of using terminology and phrases common to residential childcare.

I enjoyed this book more than the first, maybe because I can relate to it better.  This book was written in 2002 and more closely reflects the childcare I recognize.  The first book was written in 1994.  I think the books should be read together, but The Gus Chronicles II could easily be read on it’s own.  The few times that it refers to the first book is not critical to understanding this one.

This book seems to have MORE profanity than the first and it has spread to the staff, although that is a reality in many programs today.

I still find Gus the genius – Cheesy and I was especially annoyed by a conversation between Gus and the real author Charles Appelstein about the death of Gus’ best friend, but I am not normally a fiction reader.

I recommend this book to all residential childcare providers.  There seems to be so little to read directly related to houseparents, I think we should read what we can to help us be better at what we do.  And although this book is considered fiction it will give you some good information to help you be a better residential worker. 

You can buy the book from Amazon.com by Clicking here – The Gus Chronicles II 

Book Review – What Do You Do With A Child Like This?

Inside the Lives of Troubled Children

By: L. Tobin

Disclaimer: This book review is my opinion of the book. If you have a different opinion of the book that is What Do You Dogreat. I know I have loved several movies and books that other reviewers have not liked and disliked movies and books that receive great reviews. I think we all have. If you would like to submit your own review, I may consider posting it. Otherwise feel free to share you reviews on the Forum. Thanks.

This book was not what I expected it to be.  I was expecting 200 pages of in depth resources for working with troubled youth.  What it turned out to be was about 60 pages of small tidbits of information spaced out over 200 pages.  The title page of the book describes it as “a notebook of thoughts, anecdotes and specialized techniques for teachers, counselors, psychologists, day care workers, and parents who find themselves in the adventure of working with children, especially troubled children.”  It lists teachers first for good cause I believe, because it is about 90% directed at teachers.  Houseparents can glean some useful information from it, but I am not sure it is worth the price of the book.

What I liked most about the book was the anecdotes told through the perspective of the children.  I think it did a very good job of expressing how children in that situation really feel.

If you can check the book out from the library or borrow it from somebody spend the two or three hours it takes to read it.  Otherwise I would spend my money on a book more relevant to houseparents.

The book is published by Whole Person Associates, Duluth, MN.  Copyright 1991, 1998.  It is available in  soft cover and is 204 pages long though it could have easily fit on less than 100 pages. 

Click Here for more information about this book at Amazon.com

Book Review -Family-Centered Services in Residential Treatment New Approaches for Group Care

By: John Y. Powell (Editor)

Disclaimer: This book review is my opinion of the book. If you have a different opinion of the book that is great. I know I have loved several movies and books that other reviewers have not liked and disliked movies and books that receive great reviews. I think we all have. If you would like to submit your own review, I may consider posting it. Otherwise feel free to share you reviews on the Forum. Thanks.

Family-Centered Services in Residential Treatment is a collection of articles, speeches, and interviews.  The editor uses these to present the concept , philosophy and need of family centered services from different perspectives to include clinicians, administrators, direct care staff, parents and children formerly in placement.

I very much enjoyed this book and the editor did a very good job further selling me on family centered services.  In my early years as a houseparent I was pretty hard core program/child centered.  The book is geared toward policy makers and as such would be of limited value to direct care staff looking for technique.  However, if you are looking for a good book to help you develop your childcare philosophy this could be it.

From a residential standpoint – with family centered services not only do you work with the child that is in out of home placement but you also work with the family to deal with the root issues that may have led to placement, to include: parenting skills, family therapy, employment assistance, etc.

The book is published by The Haworth Press, Inc, Binghamton, NY.  Copyright 2000.  It is available in both hard and soft cover and including the index is 147 pages long. 

Click here for more information about this book at Amazon.com

Book Review – The Residential Youth Care Worker in Action

A Collaborative, Competency-Based Approach

By: Bob Bertolino, PhD & Kevin Thompson, MEd

Disclaimer: This book review is my opinion of the book. If you have a different opinion of the book that is great. I know I have loved several movies and books that other reviewers have not liked and disliked movies and books that receive great reviews. I think we all have. If you would like to submit your own review, I may consider posting it. Thanks.

I believe the main point of this book is to get Residential Youth Care Workers (RYCW) to move from the traditional “Deficit-based” (What is wrong with the child) approach when dealing with the youth in their care to a more “Collaborative, Competency-based” (What is right with the child) approach to help the child change their behavior.  It has some very good information and techniques that we can use to help the children in our care.  For me it was somewhat of an affirmation of what we are already doing.  If you find yourself often dealing with children from a negative perspective, you may find this book very helpful. 

Topics covered include: The Many Faces of Residential Youth Care Workers, From Impossibility to Possibility, Creating a Respectful Context and Climate for Change, Altering Problematic Patterns of Viewing, Managing Crisis with an Eye on Possibilities, etc.

My biggest issue with the book is the use of the acronym “RYCW” which stands for Residential Youth Care Worker.  In the first chapter I counted 50 times where the acronym was used.  Acronyms are good for writers but can be very burdensome on readers, especially when they cannot be sounded into a word as in this case.  By the third chapter every time I saw RYCW I would mentally translate it to houseparent.  This seemed to make it flow much better as I read.  You could use houseparent, counselor, youth worker, or what ever fits in your case.  As I was writing this I realized you could probably pronounce the acronym “Rick” because of the first three letters “RYC” and just make the “W” silent.  Wouldn’t it be funny if that stuck.  I’d have to change the name of the website to “The Rick Network”.

The only other issue I have is that it was clearly written by a PhD.  To me the writing style at times was very textbooky (if textbooky can be a word), although I guess that is what it is: a textbook to teach a Collaborative, Competency-based Approach.  There were times I had to force myself to pick up the book and read it.

Would I recommend the book? Yes, though it would not be at the top of my read list.  Read the book if:

  1. You are a new worker, or thinking of entering the field.  This would be a good resource to get you started in a more positive way of thinking.  However, I think you should read No Such Thing as a Bad Kid by Charlie Applestein First
  2. You are finding yourself often looking at situations from a negative perspective.  This book might help you gain some techniques that will help you focus on the positive.
  3. You are an experienced worker and have read the other material that is available.  In that case read this; you will surely glean some useful information that will help you help the youth you work with.

Book Review – The Gus Chronicles 1

 The Gus Chronicles 1
Reflections from an Abused Kid

By: Charles D. Appelstein, M.S.W. (and Gus E. Studelmeyer)

Disclaimer: This book review is my opinion of the book. If you have a different opinion of the book that is great. I know I have loved several movies and books that other reviewers have not liked and disliked movies and books that receive great reviews. I think we all have. If you would like to submit your own review, I may consider posting it. Otherwise feel free to share you reviews on the Forum. Thanks.

The Gus Chronicles 1 is an updated and revised version of The Gus Chronicles (originally published in 1994).  Doing something over will almost always result in something better, and it is certainly true in this case.  I enjoyed this book much more than I did the original.

I think Charlie (The Author) does a great job of helping a person get a perspective of how children in care, and their parents feel about those of us that work in residential care, he also does a pretty good job of highlighting some of the prejudices that we may have toward the children and birth parents that we need to be aware of and deal with.

I very much like how he changed his presentation of the need for Family Centered Services in residential care.  He does a very good job at presenting his case, and I fully agree that we need to find a way to work with the whole family.  If we don’t, we are, for the most part, wasting our time with the kids.

The Gus Chronicles 1 is a fictional story about a kid, Gus E. Studelmeyer that is living in a residential treatment center (RTC). The author uses a fictional person to address realistic situations in an RTC, and for the most part does a very good job.

The main character “Gus” is the narrator of the book and tells his story as a resident in an RTC. He also interviews and talks with other characters to get their perspective. Topics covered in the book include: Residential Treatment: A Child’s Perspective, Restraints, Foster Care, Bedtime and happenings during the night(sexual acting out, bed wetting, etc.), families perspective of residential care, activities, self-esteem, etc. The book is easy reading and presents information with little of the psychological speak. It does a good job of using terminology and phrases common to residential childcare, which will help a new person to residential care, better understand what those around him/her are saying.

This book would be excellent reading for somebody thinking about getting into residential care. It will give you a good idea of some of the situations and behaviors you will have to face, keeping in mind that the frequency and severity of the situations presented in the book would be much less for the majority of workers in residential foster care and community group home facilities. This book would be good reading for those already in child care, and might give you some ideas on how to better handle situations you deal with in your facility.

WARNING: This book contains profanity!!. Because the author is trying to paint a realistic picture of life in an RTC for the youth, he uses some of the same language the youth in RTC’s actually use. Although one of our goals is to help youth express themselves properly, with some it is a long hard road; you are going to hear some bad words working with troubled youth. This book will give you a chance to test your feelings about that.

I still somewhat struggle with using Gus and his 163 IQ to present the technical aspects, and would have preferred a second character, like a super computer, being a huge fan of the movie and book, Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, to present those aspects of the book. On the other hand it is strictly a personal preference and not enough of a distraction to prevent a you from getting very valuable information to help you be better providers.

I highly recommend the book and encourage all residential care workers and those thinking about becoming residential care workers to read it.

Click here to read my original review of “The Gus Chronicles”

The Gus Chronicles II is a sequel to the original Gus Chronicles. It was published in 2002 and was my favorite of the Gus Chronicle books. Now it is neck and neck with The Gus Chronicles 1. Click here to read the review The Gus Chronicles II.

You can buy the book from Amazon.com The Gus Chronicles I: Reflections from an Abused Kid
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Book Review -raising cain, Caring for Troubled Youngsters/Repairing our Troubled System

By: Richard J. Delaney

Disclaimer: This book review is my opinion of the book. If you have a different opinion of the book that is great. I know I have loved several movies and books that other reviewers have not liked and disliked movies and books that receive great reviews. I think we all have. If you would like to submit your own review, I may consider posting it. Thanks.

The primary audience of “raising cain” is foster and adoptive parents though the author dedicates the book “To all helping professionals whose labor of love includes troubled foster and adopted children” and most of the behaviors and many of the issues can relate directly to residential care.  Cain is the person in the Bible that killed his brother Abel and the author describes him as the “first emotionally disturbed child”  He uses Cain as a metaphor for for troubled foster children, I think, because of their behavior they are sometimes forced to wander through the foster care system in the same way that Cain was forced to wander the earth as a marked individual for his behavior.

I enjoyed “raising cain” not so much because it is a great resource to help me deal with difficult behavior but more as an affirmation that behaviors and trends I have noticed in the troubled children I have worked with are real, others recognize many of the same flaws that I have noticed in the system, and that there are others that want to work together to improve the system.  Though the book does offer some very good suggestions for dealing with specific behaviors as well as difficult behavior in general.

The book only has six chapters, but each chapter is divided into subchapters that address the individual behaviors, situations and interventions.

The first chapter is titled, “The Children: Troubled Like Cain, Marked By Their Past”  It identifies and discusses 14 of the most common behaviors that troubled foster and adoptive children have.  For example: Eating Disorders, Feeling of Being a Victim, Inability to Profit from Experience, Emotional Immaturity, Family Phobia, etc.  I often found myself relating this to several of the children I have worked with as I was reading it.

Chapter two, “Our Foster and Adoptive Families”  This chapter discusses many of the issues that tend to either prevent people from wanting to become or stop being foster and adoptive parents.  Though I would add that many of the issues are the same for houseparents and other residential childcare staff.  Topics include: Victimization of foster and adoptive mothers by the disturbed child (I have seen this many times in my career.  More often than not, even though I am the main disciplinarian in the home, the child almost always takes issue with my wife.  Usually if there is a complaint to administration it is about my wife.)  Living a fish bowl existence, Dealing with the occasional unhelpful, helping professionals, etc.  

Chapter three, “Family-Based Strategies for Helping Troubled Youngsters”  This chapter includes a very comprehensive list of questions that can be asked when trying to come up with strategies for dealing with difficult behavior.  I think these questions can really be helpful in getting to the origin of the problem behavior rather than just focusing on the results of the behavior

Chapter four, “Sample Strategies”  This chapter offers several examples of how a foster/adoptive parent addressed a behavior in a somewhat unconventional manner.  Some of them I thought were not only “out of the box” but out of the world and impractical others made total sense to me.  The greatest asset of this chapter is to help you to think “out of the box” and realize that sometimes extreme behaviors need extreme solutions (AND I DON’T MEAN ABUSIVE or PHYSICAL.  Just unconventional.)

Chapter Five, “Raising Cain With The System” and chapter Six, “Raising Cain Better” deal mainly with policy and possible reforms of the system.  Often subjects many houseparents couldn’t care less about, though I do enjoy discussion on policy.

The book is published by Wood & Barnes Publishing, Oklahoma City, OK.  Copyright 1998.  It comes in soft cover and is 135 pages long.  I paid $17.95 plus shipping for my copy, but you can get it for much less at Amazon.com