Barbara Bernhardt has won a last-minute reprieve from a Maryland judge's order that she give up the child she has called her daughter for 2 1/2 years.
Officials of the Texas child welfare agency that still has legal custody of Deborah Annette and sought the order to remove her from Bernhardt's Takoma Park home have decided to reevaluate the situations, according to an agency official.
Before the sudden reversal late Tuesday, Bernhardt had believed she would have to return Deborah to a Washington adoption agency or face possible contempt of court proceedings. The Washington agency, Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area, has been handling the case here for the agency in Deborah's native Texas.
Deborah who is just shy of 3 years old, has been the subject of a legal tug-of-war between the agencies and Bernhardt since 1976, when the agencies first tried to remove her from the home. On Aug. 18, Bernhardt came to the end of the legal road in Maryland in her battle to adopt the child.
The Texas agency, according to testimony in the original court case, has wanted to remove Deborah partly because Bernhardt is now divorced and Deborah's natural mother wanted the child to have a home with both a mother and father. Lutheran Social Services also charged in court that Bernhardt concealed the fact that she and her husband were separated shortly after Deborah was placed in their home for a trial period in March 1976.
Bernhardt now says, that not telling the agency about the separation was "a mistake," but she adds: "The penalty for what I did should not be breaking up Deborah's life."
A "Save Deborah Committee" of Bernhardt's friends and neighbors sponsored a trip to Dallas by one of its members, Jayetta Hecker, who won the new decision from the Texas agency Tuesday.