Local Battlefords foster parents are concerned they won't have access to the items they need for their foster children on short notice, now that Walmart Canada is no longer accepting government requisition forms.
Foster families often receive requisition forms (vouchers) to purchase emergency needs such as clothing or other products for their foster children.
However, Walmart Canada recently announced it no longer accepting requisition forms, and similar types of credit account holders, across Canada, based on a new policy.
Andrea, a local foster parent who preferred not to give her last name, said it will be difficult for her family not being able to go to Walmart for emergency purchases using a requisition order she receives, since it is the only large one-stop store providing a wide range of family clothing and products in the area.
"Initially, I was surprised by the announcement from Walmart that they would no longer accept government-issued purchase orders," she said. "I've been using these vouchers for years to purchase needed items for kids that are placed in my care on short notice."
She said often the foster children arrive at odd hours of the day or night with immediate needs.
"Sometimes they don't even have a jacket or matching shoes," she added. "Being a small town like North Battleford, Walmart is the only place that would have these items available."
Andrea said she and her husband are grateful for these vouchers that Social Services gives them for these purposes.
She said they will now have to travel out of the local area to Lloydminster or Saskatoon to meet their needs if they have to redeem these vouchers.
Andrea said she recently received a baby that arrived in the night with only a blanket and no clothes on, so it was an emergency situation. She was glad she could take her voucher to Walmart to purchase some basic needs items.
"The kids didn't ask to be in this situation and they deserve the necessities, just like my own children would," she added.
Andrea said although there are some stores locally that accept the vouchers, usually a foster parent is issued one voucher and has to use it all at once at one location, which can create difficulties also as the store often doesn't carry all the products they require for the foster child in their care.
Tobie Eberhardt, executive director with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Social Services' Child and Family Program, confirmed the Ministry received notice on Jan. 9 that Walmart Canada is discontinuing all its charge accounts across the country, effective immediately.
"This isn't just a decision (affecting) social services in Saskatchewan, but rather to all charge account holders across Canada," she said.
Eberhardt said since that time the ministry has been busy working to inform its staff and caregivers, including foster parents and any third party organizations about this change "to ensure that anyone who has a requisition knows they can no longer use it at Walmart.
Social Services staff will identify where people can use the vouchers however, or advice them how they can obtain the goods they require elsewhere.
She said the ministry is asking people to connect with their caseworker and they will work with them to identify where they can purchase the goods they need.
Eberhardt said within Child and Family Programs the ministry issues requisition forms on an emergency basis only, usually for after hours situations when they are placing a child with a caregiver to allow them to purchase some essential items until the parent can more fully prepare for the child placement. Items could be baby formula, or perhaps a car seat, for example,
Eberhardt added the ministry will continue to look at what other options are available to meet families' needs in the province and will connect with other provinces to see what they are doing as well, following the announcement by Walmart.
Deb Davies, executive director from Saskatchewan Foster Families Association, said Walmart's change in policy is going to cause some impact on foster families, however the association will offer assistance to help families access what they need.
"What we will be doing and we are doing is working with the Ministry of Social Services to create a list for different communities of where foster families can use requisitions," she said. "We do have a list of some vendors or suppliers that might be able to help them with requisitions. But we are always encouraging and suggesting people call those stores prior to attending."
She said she is committed to working with Social Services to find out how families are accepting emergency placements and are taking the child or children home that might need financial support.
"We are looking at ways at how we can best support our foster parents," Davies added. "We were all quite surprised when Walmart announced this nationwide that they were not taking requisitions. We want to support our families and we need to work together."
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