The antibiotic era has changed the incidence, causal factors, and gravity of empyema. Between 1977 and 1988, 27 children with empyema were surgically managed. Ten cases occurred after an operation (8 esophageal and 2 abdominal). There were 15 girls and 12 boys. The age range was newborn to 12 years. Symptoms included fever, cough, tube drainage postoperatively, anorexia, weight loss, chest pain, tachypnea, and lymphadenitis. Multiple aerobic and anaerobic organisms were cultured. Treatment included thoracentesis and antibiotics, tube thoracostomy, tube thoracostomy and bronchoscopy, decortication, or decortication with lobectomy. The total hospital stay averaged 28.3 days, and after decortication, 11.6 days. Empyemas in children frequently have multiple organisms and should be treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics while awaiting culture results. Thoracentesis and tube thoracostomy are often ineffective in curing the disease. Decortication can abbreviate hospital stay if performed promptly for persistent pleural sepsis.