In the introduction to the guidance, Prof Kevin Fenton of Public Health England says “we need an open and honest sexual and reproductive health culture, in which condom use is simply the norm”. A C-card scheme is a great way to support young people – they simply have to get hold of a card, have an introductory session on correct condom use and sexual health from a scheme advisor, then afterwards show their card at any participating outlet in order to get a supply of free condoms.
The guidance says, “What many young people want most from a C-card scheme is a trusted adult with whom they can discuss sex and relationships. That’s why practitioners involved in the C-card scheme are skilled at working with young people in a non-judgemental and appropriate manner, and can refer them safely to other more comprehensive or targeted services.”
C-card schemes are a great practical illustration of one of Brook’s core principles – trust young people – as they empower young people to make informed decisions about safer sex. A C-card scheme brings them into contact with networks of people and organisations who can help them with a myriad of issues alongside and including sexual health, through direct support or through signposting to related services.
C-card schemes provide an opportunity to start conversations about sex, relationships, and overall wellbeing with all young people and in particular with young men, who are often less likely than young women to visit health services or to be willing to open up about such issues to a health professional or a youth worker. Youth services which are part of a C-card network may find that their attendance rises, while pharmacies within a C-card scheme also often report a boost in business from young people, who may open up about any other health issues which are playing on their minds when they come in to pick up their free condoms.
From a public health perspective, C-card schemes are vital - we know that in England, condom use among sexually active young people ranks poorly when compared with other European and North American countries, and we must seek to change this. The Department of Health’s 2013 Framework for Sexual Health Improvement in England places a strong emphasis on prevention of sexually transmitted infections and reductions in unplanned pregnancy rates – condom use has a key role to play. The financial investment in a C-card scheme is more than repaid in savings to the public purse, through reduced social costs as well as better sexual health and general wellbeing outcomes among scheme users.
There really is no downside to C-card schemes, and I very much hope that this revised guidance, with its step by step instructions and best practice case studies, will help strengthen the quality and quantity of C-card schemes as part of an integrated package of health services and care for young people.
The guidance can be downloaded from www.brook.org.uk/c-card.
Brook is the UK’s leading young people’s sexual health and wellbeing charity, with services in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Jersey. In 2014 we are celebrating 50 years since we opened our doors. We have three key activities: clinical and support services, education and training, campaigning, lobbying and advocacy and last year we helped over 270,000 young people. www.brook.org.uk Twitter: @BrookCharity @BeSexPositive @Simonablake