An after-school struggle to juggle kids and work
A study shows that the workplace productivity of US parents suffers when they are worried about what their kids are doing after school.
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When schools close, as they did last week for the holidays, the children go with her to Citigroup in Long Island City, N.Y., where she works in marketing. The company sets up a "camp" in a conference room and brings in a trained staff. "It's in the same building." Ms. Avgerinopoulus says. "We get to have lunch together. This is a definite advantage." She also enjoys the advantage of being able to work remotely some of the time. "If I am able to stay home three days a week, it makes a big difference."Skip to next paragraph
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Carlos Gonzalez, a financial analyst at Fannie Mae in Washington, D.C., is the father of a 7-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter. Their school offers an after-school program. His wife goes to work early at the Food and Drug Administration and picks up the children after school.
When their regular arrangements are not available, such as on snow days, he takes the children to work with him. Fannie Mae employees can use the child-care center for emergencies for 30 days per year.
"It's a great place, not only because it takes the stress off parents, but because the kids meet new friends." Mr. Gonzalez says. He would like the program expanded to more than 30 days.
Fannie Mae established emergency care, including after-school care, when it recognized that primary child care sometimes falls through, creating "a major productivity issue," says Emmanuel Bailey, chief diversity officer. "Anything that's a drainer to top talent, we want to address."
Helen Patrikis, a publicist in New York, has two sons, ages 17 and 15. Until last year, her parents, who live nearby, came to the house every afternoon to greet her sons when they arrived or to pick them up from sports practices. Now that her older son drives, this is no longer necessary.
"Obviously you worry," Ms. Patrikis says. "I can be sitting in a meeting with somebody in my office. I'll get an instant message or a phone call [from one of my sons]. You have to stop what you're doing. It does impact your work." She adds, "We're in constant communication. We're always talking on the phone: 'What are you doing? Where are you going?' "
While situations like hers highlight the need for an understanding boss and flexible work schedules, one day Celsi received the kind of call that underscores the need for after-school programs. She learned that several boys had pushed their way into the house and said to her children, "Give me something." They stole $150 from Celsi's bedroom and a CD player.
"I had to run home at 4 o'clock," she says. "The neighbors were all there, the police were there. It was extremely frightening." For several weeks after that, her parents monitored the house after school.
Not all parents are able to leave work in an emergency, as she did. "A lot of low-wage workers can't just walk away in the afternoon if their child is in trouble," Grant says. "They may not even be able to pick up the phone. Some don't have transportation."
A lack of after-school programs also raises concerns about childhood obesity. "They're home alone, and they're eating," Grant says. "They're not out running around. They're watching television, playing on the computer. They're not being active." She adds, "One of the ironies we have to face is, there's great support for after-school programs, [and] there are all these kids who need these services. After-school is not a partisan issue. It spans across the aisle. It goes from far right to far left."
In some cases, she notes, "Parents had eight fewer unscheduled absences a year when children were in after-school programs."
In the business world, says Sabattini, the Catalyst researcher, companies can lessen the high toll of decreased productivity after school by developing an "agile" workplace that thrives on flexibility and emphasizes results rather than rigid schedules.
Celsi offers a suggestion of her own. Asked what would make her after-school situation better, she says, "I wish I could have a [global positioning system] on each of my kids and look at that on my laptop. I'm totally serious."