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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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It's 3 p.m. Do you know where your children are? Every weekday afternoon, Claire Celsi faces that question as she thinks about her two teenagers, ages 13 and 14. With no after-school program available for them, she must keep tabs on their whereabouts and activities from her office.

"It's a huge balancing act," says Ms. Celsi, a publicist in Des Moines, Iowa. "I make them call me from our home phone, so I know they're home."

Millions of working parents share similar concerns as they watch the clock and hope that their after-school arrangements are in place. For their employers, these distractions can take a huge toll on productivity, according to a new study by Catalyst and the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

"The good news is that many parents have good support and good programs in place to help them," says Laura Sabattini, a researcher at Catalyst. "But many have concerns about what's going on [after school]. Calling children or even just being worried can lead to distraction at work."

Despite progress, many communities still face a serious shortage of affordable, high-quality after-school programs. More than 14 million students between kindergarten and 12th grade take care of themselves after school, says Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance in Washington, D.C. That includes 40,000 kindergartners and almost 4 million middle school students in grades 6 to 8.

More than a third of the US labor force consists of parents of minor children. Almost three-fourths of those children are between 5 and 18 years old. Two- thirds of these parents are employed full-time. The gap between the time school lets out at 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. and the time most full-time employed parents get home at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. adds up to 15 to 25 hours a week.

Researchers call this challenge Parental Concern over After School Time, or PCAST. It affects workers from the factory floor to the executive suite, mothers and fathers alike.

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