Prepaid card delivers social benefits for children

Buckinghamshire County enables young people to engage in positive leisure activities

    The challenge

    Buckinghamshire County Council provides a wide range of services to communities in Buckinghamshire, England from over 500 locations. Buckinghamshire County Council (BCC), like all UK councils, was given a new statutory duty to provide access to leisure and positive activities for children and young people (C&YP) in care. BCC's Joint Commissioning team for C&YPs services set up a Leisure Card Board to consider options for improving access to leisure and positive activities. Three options were shortlisted which were: monthly payments to children/carers, reimbursing activity providers and offering prepaid cards to children to use when paying for their chosen leisure activities.

    BCC developed their business case outlining the costs of each option from feedback gathered from focus groups of children, foster carers, social workers and other stakeholders. An awareness session was organized for suppliers of leisure and sporting activities. The prepaid card option was not only the most cost effective option the Council could have adopted but it was also the option selected by the focus groups and was adopted by the commissioning team as the preferred option.

    The solution

    BCC accepted the recommendation of the Leisure Card Board and Citi's Visabranded prepaid card program was adopted for children in care in Buckinghamshire. User group feedback identified popular leisure and activity providers in the region and limited the access normally provided by a Visa Prepaid card. The card is being used widely for positive leisure activities such as swimming, zoos, bowling alleys and leisure parks as well as book and art supply shops.

    BCC receives management information reporting in order to monitor the program and results. C&YP's services staff received outline training and support from Citi to develop the program and the implementation was relatively seamless. "The Bucks card has provided children and young people with improved access to leisure and positive activities. Young people have the independence to access activities of their choice when and where they want it. The restriction on merchants and the use of chip and PIN makes this card safe to use for activities appropriate for this age group" says Ira Bhattacharya, Children's Services Commissioning, Buckinghamshire County Council.

    The result

    The prepaid card solution was the most cost effective option for BCC and delivered real value to the children utilizing it. Most importantly it has created huge social benefits for C&YP in care and for the broader community. Children using the card are engaging in positive leisure activities in their spare time which will provide immense social return in the longer term. The range of activities being offered has increased due to the great feedback received from the C&YP in care. BCC conducted a survey six months after the program went live in 2010. The results show the success of the program and the support for it by the carers.

    "I have found the card to be invaluable, and encourage children to engage in numerous activities. It helps young people to think and use their prepaid card correctly, learning budgeting skills. I feel that the card has been a success for all ages and has taught many of the children new skills", says Juliet Cleverdon, Foster Carer, Buckinghamshire.

    There were a range of questions covered to monitor customer satisfaction. Children were asked why they liked the card and below are a couple of the comments received: "You don't have to pay out of your own pocket money and can go out more often" (12 year old female ); "It gives you more opportunities to be active" (13 year old female).

    C&YP were also asked what difference the card had made to their lives and the following comments were received: "The card has helped me start going to the gym, which I always wanted to do but couldn't. I've got friends at the gym and look forward to going every other day" (17 year old male); "Let's me meet up with my friends" (13 year old female).

    Children and carers alike agreed that the card enables them to develop independence and make their own decisions about their leisure activities. They feel more responsible and have learned to respect the card's value. Children have also gained confidence in using the internet and telephone to access their card balance. The card usage has gradually picked up and it reached over 80 percent 15 months into the program.