Vancouver Province

Sunday 30 April 2000

B.C. liable for Molly's injuries

The Province
Barbara McLintock, Staff Reporter The Province

CP Photo / B.C. government was found liable for injuries to Baby Molly, shown in file photo.

VICTORIA -- Justice has been done for Cindy Engbrecht's niece. Now it's the rest of B.C.'s abused kids she's worried about.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled Friday that the provincial government is 100-per-cent liable for injuries to young Molly, who was shaken almost to death as a baby by her foster mother.

The judge said the government must pay damages and care costs to the family of the child, who is in a permanent vegetative state.

If Molly lives to 30, the total damages -- to be paid yearly -- will be about $6.3 million, one of the highest awards ever for a baby in Canada.

Engbrecht is relieved, but worried about what society in general, and the children's ministry in particular, are doing to protect children from abuse.

"If people knew dogs were being beaten all over the province . . . there'd be an uproar and it wouldn't stop until the problem was fixed," she said. "But when it's children . . .

"Sometimes I think we need to cover our kids in fur and give them little tails -- and then there'd be public outrage."

Molly was two months old when she suffered permanent and severe brain damage after being shaken by her foster mother, Kim Kierkegaard. The child had been in the woman's care for four days and cried inconsolably most of that time.

The ministry had insisted Molly go to the foster home even though Engbrecht and another aunt were prepared to take their sister's baby, who was born addicted to methadone.

Justice Frederick Melvin ruled the ministry did not make proper inquiries about the level of care Molly required or whether Kierkegaard could provide it, and it did not consider what was best for Molly.

Normally, legislation protects ministry social workers from being found liable if they acted "in good faith."

In this case, Melvin ruled the negligence was such that they could not be found to have acted in good faith.

The child, now three, is blind, suffers from spastic cerebral palsy, has to be fed through a tube and has small seizures as often as 20 times a day. She will need 24-hour care for the rest of her life to ensure she doesn't choke to death.

"We try everything to give her back any kind of life and to treat her like a three-year-old," said Engbrecht, who now cares for Molly in her Victoria home.

"But she's in such darkness, not just from being blind, but from the brain damage done. She's inside there, though, and we love her. And that's so easy to do with her."

Engbrecht said she takes hope from small signs of improvement in Molly: "She can smile a little bit now. She couldn't smile before.

"Maybe what happened to her will change something for other little kids.

"But her life was stolen to do it, and that is a constant nonstop pain for us."