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Last week the count went up to three thousand on the evening news.  Three thousand children separated from their parents and removed to detention centers and foster care all over the country.  No records kept of parent/child identities.  Three thousand.  Children.

All at once I am eleven years old.  Writing these words, my stomach turns. Something deep inside wakes up, alert, afraid.  My breath gets short.

I was eleven when I stood with my nine-year-old brother in the admissions office of the orphanage, being admitted.  He would become “Sam” as an adult.  Then, he was “Samuel.”  I was “Patsy.”

We had been living in one room on Pine Street in St. Louis.  Mama had moved us there because it was “a nice neighborhood.”  Brick homes, a tree-lined street.  But our room was in the basement, in the back of the house.  It was separated from the rest of the basement by a loose door.  On the other side there was a furnace and an open coal bin.  In our room there was a coal stove in the center of the space, a hanging light bulb on each side of the stove, one bed for the three of us, a hot plate, a small sink unattached to the wall, and three small windows up near the ceiling, at ground level outside. But the neighborhood was nice.

One day the woman who owned the building and lived upstairs pounded on the door to our room.  “Get out!”  She screamed at our mother.  “Get out! You are filthy! You have brought roaches into our home!  Get out!”

In truth, we probably had.  I have wondered about that woman.  Did she not see the children in the room?  Did she not care that they were there, listening?  Three thousand.  Children. Watching.  Listening.

In the admissions office, I remember standing close to my brother.  My mother was there.  An older woman behind a desk, a younger woman, taking notes.  Next to me, close to me, Samuel.  Many years later, in my fifties, I went back to the orphanage, and got some of the records.  The woman taking notes, wrote: “Patsy did not take her hand off her brother throughout the entire interview.”

The newspaper details an incident in which a twelve-year-old-girl wants to hug her ten-year-old brother, “to reassure him.”  She is told she cannot touch her brother.  In the orphanage, I was not allowed to see or talk to my brother.  He lived in the “boy’s cottage.” He sat at one of the boy’s dining tables at the far end of our common dining hall.  I could see his yellow hair, but I could not go where he was.  I have never written these things before.  I do so now to say, “don’t they see?  Don’t they know the children are even there?”  I am eighty-four years old.  These memories are still raw sores in my psyche.  I have come to understand that my mother had nowhere to go.  She said it was for my own good, so I would learn “good table manners.”  I understand now that what she meant was, I would learn how to cross class.  And I did.  And I suppose it was for my own good.  But they kicked my brother out in a few weeks, and he experienced the worst of things in a foster home.  Three thousand children are being placed in “foster care” and detention centers.  Their hurt is for a lifetime.  People, we have to see.  We have to act.  We have to care.  My way is to write notes of protest or thank you to people who act for the things I believe in.  One helpful way to do that is at the Americans of Conscience Checklist, at, which gives me well-researched information and exact addresses.



  • Marie Angeline says:

    You are an inspiration. So glad to have learned from you.

  • Jan DeVos says:

    This breaks my heart….for you, Pat, and for the nameless children who have been part of the world’s brokenness….I’m sorry…, so sorry….for you, for the children, for the world….My hope is that with each sharing compassion grows and grows, swelling into a great wild chorus that changes the course of things…..Redemption is possible….and I choose to hope for that….

  • Barbara E Berger says:

    Thank you, Pat, from the bottom of my heart for telling the story. Your story. Your brother’s story. The story of so many children and families. The hurt stays forever I know. May your story give voice to those without one.

  • Janet Johnston says:

    Thank you, Pat, for sharing your experience and the information.

  • This is so sad. The lasting impact on these children will never be known. All of this could have been avoided if some one could have taken the time to THINK!

  • Gretchen Robinson says:

    Thank you, Pat.
    “The power of the story is that it must be told.”

  • Anita Adams says:

    Thank you Pat
    I am equally schocked! Recently I wrote a piece on Medium. Thank you for the additional resource. I pray for a miracle, a miracle that will heal our very broken world. A miracle that will last.

  • Neesa Moloney says:

    Dear Pat,

    Thinking of you and the 3000–and truly we don’t know how many more–children who are so deeply impacted for life by uncaring, greedy and often hateful adults. You are a shining light of healing dark places. My prayer for you is that grace enter and heal all of those wounds no matter how deep.

    much love

  • kate larkin says:

    Pat, thank you so much for sharing your deeply personal and important story. And thank you for the link that connects our aching hearts to altruistic action. Thank you, thank you!

  • Timothy C. Keenan says:

    Thank you, dear Patsy, for your willingness to open these sores for US to see. You are a blessing. I can only but imagine the pain in your brotherr’s heart, as he looked across that dining hall separating him from LOVE.

  • NGAIRE GEE says:

    And today I read there are still 700 children who have not been returned to their families.
    We must always object – make a noise – protest on their behalf. There are thousands and thousands of stolen children in our world. Thank you for being on their case dear Pat. You just keep on stirring.

  • Helen Sears says:

    How brave you’e always been! And it matches your compassion. Those two elements together are what have made your ministry of writing-as-healing so effective. It’s a gift to get to learn the circumstances that activated your inherent strength and depth. Thank you.

  • Judi Nelson says:

    Pat, You can relate to the separation of children from parent better than most. Thank you for sharing your truth so we can better understand the trauma these children will carry for a lifetime. At last count, and who knows how accurate that count is, there are 497 children who have not been reunited with their parents. We cannot let these children nor this unnecessary unkindness fall by the wayside.

  • Recently I wrote on my blog ( about my experience in the “Take-In” interview that place me in an orphanage. I have received a number of responses from others of you whose hearts are breaking for the now 500 infants and young children who are being held separated from their parents. This note is to thank you for sharing your grief and outrage. Let’s keep the pressure on — this cannot be allowed to continue.

  • Josie Pearse says:

    I just came across this and want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing – this and all the rest. When the news of these children flashed across my screen I felt the panic that you describe. I went into a ‘residential nursery’ at a year old. During my life I have tried to express the terrible wound that made, in all kinds of ways, some less helpful than others. I don’t remember it in the usual way but I absolutely know that some part of me was frightened beyond my ability to understand. As an adult I learned my mother didn’t believe she could take care of me or my brother and I have healed enough. But my life was a long-time damaged, my talents were driven underground. At the time of writing I hear the database that was supposed to reunite these families was a lie. Archives, court records were so important to me, I still remember the feel of the vellum they were written on. I am in London, England so not a citizen but I Love your idea of writing to encourage those who can act. I will do that. Thank you again.

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