Efforts are underway to bring an innovative ‘leisure card’ scheme to County Roscommon which could see children aged 6 to 18 receive up to €350 in funding for after-school activities such as sport, music and drama.
The initiative originated in Iceland and has been credited with transforming the lives of teenagers there.
Now, plans are afoot to bring the ‘Frístundakort’ or Leisurecard to Connacht. Support for the scheme is being driven by Planet Youth, an initiative which has been operating in Roscommon, Galway and Mayo since 2018 with the aim of enhancing young people’s health and wellbeing.
Emmet Major, Planet Youth coordinator for the three counties, says parents who took part in a recent webinar were impressed by the initiative.
“We are all excited about what this card could do in terms of transforming children’s lives in this country. In Iceland it started with every child from 6 to 18 receiving €90 in the first year and then immediately that was increased to €180 for the second year. Now, they receive €350 each year and it’s all done through a centralised website,” he said.
The voucher can only be used on supervised extra-curricular activities and a database of individuals and clubs offering properly regulated services would be required, but Emmet says the benefits would be immense.
“Before Iceland introduced this scheme, they had some of the highest rates of teenage alcohol and drug abuse in Europe. It has been transformative there and drug and alcohol abuse has plummeted.
“It has been shown that taking part in regular, supervised extra-curricular activities has many knock-on effects, not least happier, healthier teenagers and young adults. It would also have significant benefits for society as a whole,” he added.
Not surprisingly there has already been a high level of interest in a similar scheme for Roscommon, Galway and Mayo already and there was a timely boost recently as Minister of State for Disability, Anne Rabbite, confirmed that she would be advocating for it.
It’s early days, however, and Emmet says the hard work on the ground will continue until those in power give the green light.