Abused Ethiopian Children Now Thriving: Life and Love With the Pattersons

In adoption, as in life, love isn’t all you need–but it surely is a big help. For Robert and Didi Patterson (formerly Eskindir and Rediet Barbour), love, along with therapies, medical care, stability, patience, and realistic expectations, has helped the two children begin to thrive. It’s beautiful and remarkable, though their mom, Ali Patterson, notes: ” Once someone feels safe, then you can work on everything else.”

Robert and Didi were originally placed for adoption from Ethiopia in 2012 with Kristen and Douglas Barbour. A short time later, both children were hospitalized for conditions that included broken bones, severe weight loss, and skin lesions. Kristen and Douglas were arrested. Ultimately they pled no contest to charges of child endangerment. I’ve written about the case several times, most recently here. In July 2014, the children became the son and daughter of Ali and Kevin Patterson.


Parents Kevin and Ali Patterson looking at photos with son Robert and daughter Didi. © Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Robert and DIdi, now eight and four years old, have three older Patterson siblings, and are thriving in their active, safe, loving family. They will have challenges in the years ahead as a result of the abuse and trauma prior to life with the Pattersons, but mom Ali and dad Kevin are well-prepared, and have deep faith in the children’ strengths.

A recent Pittsburgh-Post Gazette article, “Family creates a home for Ethiopian Adoptees abused by previous parents,” has more photos and information.

The Pattersons debated making a victim impact statement at the trial of Kristen and Douglas Barbour, after the Barbours had entered their “no contest” plea. In the Post-Gazette article, Ali says they decided ultimately to make a statement, because they felt an obligation to children whose abuse and neglect might not be reported. “There were so many missed opportunities for help for our children, from mandated reporters to people in the community. People need to understand that it isn’t their job to determine whether abuse and neglect happened, but to report their concerns.”

Ali says also in the Post-Gazette article that “No one involved in the children’s lives at that time, from their community, family or church ever apologized to Robert and Didi…Nobody said, ‘I’m sorry you suffered.’ ”

The story of these children has been made public in the course of the Barbours’ criminal case, and the Pattersons are well aware that Robert and Didi could look up those stories in years to come. Says Ali in the recent article, “We wanted them to see themselves not as forever victims but as the resilient people they are, and we want them to know they are admired and adored.”


Big brother Will Patterson, 13, getting a hug from little sister Didi, 4. © Pittsburgh Post-Gazette







5 thoughts on “Abused Ethiopian Children Now Thriving: Life and Love With the Pattersons

  1. Thanks for your thoughts.
    Local television news media had already shown images of the children and refused to blur their eyes as is common, citing the story as ‘newsworthy.’ They were not responsive to our requests and we were counseled that we had no legal recourse.

    Further, we were identified as part of the public record when we made victim impact statements, and people who know and do not know us had made the connection, in person and on line. There was no way of presenting the victim impact statement while keeping identities private. Those who used initials in prior reporting (like Maureen) did so out of courtesy, but victims’ names are public.

    Kids who know them at school and in sports etc recognized the pictures shown when court hearings happened +2 years.

    Given those circumstances, we were faced with a choice to hide, to see images from when they were victims recycled, or to speak. We sought advice from adult adoptees, adoption specialists, medical professionals and therapists before making our decision. We knew we would be judged for the choice – I judge parents who seem to disclose indiscretely, and I can’t count the number of times I have spoken about the difference between secrecy and privacy and the absolute value of the second – but a false history (including images) produced by the former family has now been replaced with the truth that my children are amazing people and survivors.

    If it were up to me, their first adoptive family would not have blogged about them and shared photos on line, and the defense would not have said things that captured the attention and imagination of on-lookers, and the news would have withheld their identities. If I had my way, my kids would have the privacy we would want for their children, and we would have the private life I always imagined. I hear that you wish we had made a different decision, but I really wish you understood how we agonized over it.

    • We are also very much hoping this is the end of it, and if images are shown following other hearings, they will not again be old pictures of my children who, as everyone can now see, are normal kids making a life in our community … Our timing considered that, and our kids’ increasing awareness (sadly) of the coverage.

  2. Several thoughts:
    1) I’m horrified that the Barbours were barely punished for torturing their ex-kids AND that they’ve retained custody of their biological children. It should be UNACCEPTABLE to retain custody of any kids once you’ve been convicted of torturing/seriously neglecting your other kids!

    2) It’s great to hear both kids are thriving in their new family.

    3) I really, really wish the new family hadn’t chosen to go public with the new names/photos of these two kids. Yes, the kids are brave survivors — but their personal history is now out there. Forever. Both kids are WAY too young to meaningfully consent to the disclosure of their personal history. Every friend, teacher, future employer or future homecoming date circa 2022 will know ALL their history with a simple Google search.

    • My understanding is that the Pattersons spent a lot of time debating how “public” to be. The reality is that much of the children’s information had already appeared in various media, without their permission. I fully understand your concerns here. I also feel confident that the Pattersons did not do this lightly, but instead wanted a sense of control over the information, for the sake of the children, who had been so misrepresented in many news reports. A tough call.

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