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'They did play God,' says woman who was not told about grandchild placed in foster care

A woman is fighting for custody of a granddaughter she didn't know she had after discovering the government kept the girl's birth from her for years — putting the child into the foster care system instead.

Woman holds granddaughter for the first time after Go Public's inquiries

By the time child welfare authorities informed Sandra Fidler about the 2016 birth of her granddaughter, the girl was already a toddler. (Brett Purdy/CBC)

A woman is fighting for custody of a granddaughter she didn't know existed after learning children's services kept the girl's birth from her for almost two years — putting the child into the foster care system instead.  

The news came out of the blue during a meeting with a Manitoba child services worker in January. Sandra Fidler was handed a piece of paper with the child's name and birth date. The girl was born in B.C. in 2016 to Fidler's daughter, who struggles with a heroin addiction.  

"They did play God … To me, it's like they stole her, they hid valuable information," Fidler said during an interview with Go Public at her home.

The girl's biological parents can't be identified under child protection legislation, but both tell CBC News they support Fidler's fight for custody. (Richard Grundy/CBC)

The 57-year-old grandmother says before notifying her, the B.C. government went to court to get permanent custody of the girl, shutting Fidler out of the court process by leaving her no chance to apply for guardianship.

"[I told them] you made her a ward of a court when you knew that we would've taken that child in a heartbeat. She would be with family that loves her … instead of a foster family going from home to home," she says.

Sandra Fidler also wonders if her disability is the reason she wasn't told about her granddaughter's birth even though she says it hasn't been a problem while raising the other children. (Brett Purdy/CBC)

Fidler is raising her daughter's other three children — the little girl's siblings -- and would like them to grow up together 

She says she asked why the girl's birth was kept secret from her for so long and says social workers told her she had too much on her plate and her daughter didn't want her to have custody.

Go Public spoke with Fidler's daughter and the girl's biological father. Both say they support the grandmother's fight to raise the girl with her siblings.

Grandmother holds girl for first time

After Go Public started asking questions about Fidler's situation, the B.C. government paid for her to visit her granddaughter in April. It was the first time she laid eyes on the girl.

"There are no words. It was so exciting. I got to hold her — she gave me a hug. It was such a beautiful feeling," Fidler says.

The visit ended with bad news, Fidler told Go Public, saying she was informed the child's foster family had applied to adopt the girl, making her attempt to unite her granddaughter with her siblings more urgent.

The B.C. government paid for Sandra Fidler to see her granddaughter in April. It was their first visit. (Courtesy Sandra Fidler)

Fidler, of Carman, Man., is running out of options. She's planning to ask B.C.'s Director of Child Protection to transfer custody to her. If that request is denied, the office can either allow someone else to adopt the girl or leave her in the custody of the province until she turns 19.

She would like to hire a lawyer, but Fidler says she can't afford one. "I hope to God [the adoption] doesn't happen. I'm trying to fight for her, but it's so hard to fight the government. I need the help."

Contravention of policy

A former social worker turned professor calls the situation "inconceivable" and a contravention of policy.

Susan Strega says the rules are clear: family is the preferred environment for a child.

Former social worker turned social work professor Susan Strega says the Fidler situation contravenes child welfare legislation and policy. (David Malysheff/CBC)

"It's very mysterious to me how this came about — that this very central piece of how child welfare workers are trained and how they're directed, how the legislation and policy frames their job, they acted in contravention of all of that," says Strega, who was a social worker in B.C. and Manitoba and is now a professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Victoria.

She says the situation is troubling but not unique and happens "over and over and over again" where child welfare puts children in foster care instead of investing resources into supporting families so they can take the kids in.

I'm trying to fight for her but it's so hard to fight the government. I need the help.- Sandra Fidler

Neither B.C. nor Manitoba children's ministries would discuss specifics, since child protection legislation prohibits anyone from identifying children in care or any details about their situation.

"Our practice, policy and our guiding legislation all require that we consider placing children with family wherever it is possible to do so safely. I trust that staff are exploring this matter thoroughly," B.C.'s Minister of Children and Family Development Katrine Conroy wrote to Go Public in an email.

Sandra Fidler was not contacted by B.C. child welfare authorities when her granddaughter was born in 2016. (Richard Grundy/CBC)

The Manitoba Department of Families wrote, "If a child has to enter care, the family is engaged with the Child and Family Services agency to determine if there are extended family or friends or community connections that could provide a support or life-long connection for the child. This is done because the first choice for placement is with family or someone the child knows and trusts."

Fidler wonders why that didn't happen in her case and hopes it's not too late to raise the girl with her siblings.

"I want her to know that we're fighting for her and we do love her … we want her home where she belongs."

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About the Author

Rosa Marchitelli

@cbcRosa

Rosa Marchitelli is a national award winner for her investigative work. As co-host of the CBC News segment Go Public, she has a reputation for asking tough questions and holding companies and individuals to account. Rosa's work is seen across CBC News platforms.

​With files by Jenn Blair

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