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Baby Richard’s Legacy: Couples Grow Wary of Domestic Adoption

April 30, 1996

CHICAGO (AP) _ One year after a weeping Baby Richard reached for his adoptive mother while his biological father carried him to a car, the 5-year-old boy is ``happy and well-adjusted,″ a psychologist says.

The youngster with the tousled mop of blond hair is happy living with his birth parents, smiles readily and shows a special fondness for Batman, Nintendo and Chicken McNuggets, say those who work closely with him.

``There are no signs of trauma, no eating or sleeping problems, no withdrawal, no angry outbursts, no asking for the other family,″ says Karen Moriarty, a clinical psychologist who visits the boy once a week.

But the custody switch that followed a 3 1/2-year court battle has had an unsettling aftermath all the same.

Couples are more wary of domestic adoptions, fearing U.S. courts may return children to their birth families, experts say. And the couple that took care of Baby Richard for the first four years of his life will mark today’s anniversary by beginning a nationwide crusade to expand the rights of adoptive families.

The boy was born in March 1991 to Daniela Janikova, an unmarried cosmetologist. She signed an adoption consent and told father Otakar Kirchner the boy died at birth. She later revealed the truth, they married and began their custody fight.

Adoptive parents Kim and Jay Warburton won the initial rounds in which a judge dubbed the boy Baby Richard to protect his privacy.

But the Illinois Supreme Court invalidated the adoption in June 1994. Appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court failed. The youngster is now known as Daniel Kirchner.

The Warburtons say they realize Daniel may be a man before they see him again but that hasn’t changed their feelings.

``We never said goodbye to Danny. We said we’d love him forever,″ Kim Warburton told the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights. ``Danny is a member of our family, and we are just waiting until he comes home.″

The Baby Richard decision, which came on top of the similar Baby Jessica case in Michigan, has had a dramatic impact on couples considering adoption, experts say. Increasingly, couples look overseas to countries with strict laws to guarantee the finality of adoptions.

``The Baby Richard case was seen as even more traumatic than the Baby Jessica case,″ says William Pierce, president of the Washington-based National Council for Adoption.

The Warburtons planned today to launch a national foundation aimed at developing public policy on issues affecting children, such as adoption, divorce and child abuse. Their 8-year-old son, Johnny, who prays every night that Danny will return, named the new foundation ``kidsHELP,″ Mrs. Warburton said.

When Baby Richard was taken from the Warburtons, some people predicted it would be traumatic for the boy. But Moriarty says that doesn’t seem to be the case.

``He is very happy, very well adjusted, he is bright, interactive and has a high level of self-esteem,″ she said. ``He shows self-confidence and plays well by himself and with other children.″

The Kirchners, who recently had a baby, Sharon, moved from the apartment complex where they lived a year ago to a suburban house. Otakar Kirchner is working as a waiter.

Lawyer Loren Heinemann, who won custody for the Kirchners, agrees that the youngster seems happy. But he says the boy’s social adaptation may be slowed because both parents were born in the former Czechoslovakia and their son was raised in the American mainstream.

``Otto and Daniela are good people but they were born in a culture that is completely foreign to what Danny was raised in, and in the last year there have been some difficulties in getting either to accept the other,″ said Heinemann, who speaks on behalf of the family.

He said the boy needs to go out more but that the Kirchners avoid public excursions, fearing public hostility. ``Otto is not perceived as a sympathetic character,″ Heinemann said. ``He is perceived as being this ogre.″

The boy has not seen his adoptive family and there are no plans for him to do so: Heinemann says bitterness and distrust between the families still exists.

``It’s going to take a long time for that to heal and open up,″ he said.

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