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Consumer Reports


Employers now setting up 'tween' care

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) At work, Connie Fako, a divorced single mother living in Palatine, Ill., is director of operations for the central region at IBM. At Palatine High School, Fako is "room mother," "varsity football mother" and "art appreciation mother." She also volunteers in the school store and hosts Cub Scout meetings.

Because Fako has flexible hours and can work from home, she also is home most days when her two sons - Justin Burd, 14, and Brent Burd, 18 - arrive from school. She trusts them, but feels better being there - and knowing where they are - even if she is working in her home office. "They know not to come in when the door is shut. But it's so cute, they put little notes under the door," Fako said.

Although still uncommon, more companies are developing work-life and after-school programs that focus on the needs of parents with older children, including "tweens," ages 10 to 13, and teenagers. Companies are stepping up to fill the gap by providing flexible work hours, funding for community after-school programs, and in rare cases, creating options for older kids in on-site day-care centers.

Because job demands make it impossible for parents to beat the kids home from school, for many parents after-school arrangements are essential. But quality programs - those with an educational as well as a recreational component - are harder to find than day-care options for younger children.

"Adults want kids safe and they want them supervised. They shouldn't be left alone," said Judy Samelson, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, a Washington, D.C advocacy group that promotes government funding of after-school programs as well as partnerships between businesses and local child-care providers to improve the quality of after-school programs.

Recently, 44 percent of the companies on "Working Mother" magazine's annual "100 Best Companies for Working Mothers" list offered before- or after-school care for older children, compared with 4 percent nationwide.


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"We've got more working parents than ever before and those working parents are only going to be productive if they're not worried about the kids after school," Samelson said.

Studies have shown workday productivity slows down starting around 3 p.m., when kids are getting out of school and nervous parents are calling to see if they have made it home safely. A recent poll by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids found that 87 percent of working mothers say the hours after school are when they are most concerned about their children's safety. Statistics that show children are trying drugs and alcohol and becoming sexually active at earlier ages add to parents' fears.

"It's one thing to leave a 1-year-old home with a cold, and it's another thing when they're 12 and you don't know who they're hanging out with. Parents are saying, `I need help in all aspects of this,' " said Jill Kirschenbaum, editor-in-chief of "Working Mother" magazine.

When work-life programs were pioneered, they focused on helping employees with kids still in diapers. Now that those kids are growing older, employers should be an integral part of helping employees meet their needs, said Debbie Bretag, executive director of the Illinois Center for Violence Prevention.

The center urges businesses to form regional collaborations to identify dependent-care needs for older children and to partner with community organizations to expand services for their employees and beyond, Bretag said.

One such group is called the Northern Illinois Collaborative, which includes Kraft, Abbott Laboratories, Baxter and Hewitt Associates.

Abbott partners with six community groups, including the YMCA, to address child-care needs. In the last two years, the company has awarded $122,000 in grants worth between $500 and $5,000 to 45 child-care providers in communities where Abbott employees live, including Kenosha, Wis. Abbott's community-based programs serve 1,884; only 399 of them are Abbott children.

A couple of years ago, Abbott surveyed employees to assess their needs. "Two things came back. Flexibility and support from the company and child care," said Sharon Larkin, who heads up Abbott's diversity, inclusion and work-life program.

Abbott built a child-care center on site two years ago that can accommodate up to 720 kids. It offers a kindergarten program and has a room reserved for before- and after-school care for kids ages 6 to 12 called the Lodge. The company also holds a summer camp fair for employees every spring, inviting more than three dozen providers.

Laura Lee Tussing, senior compliance quality engineer at Abbott, plans to send her oldest son, Adam, 12, to Abbott's Summer of Service camp next year, a program started with a local school district where kids can volunteer in the community while their parents are at work.

Tussing said she has always believed that parents need more help raising children during adolescence, when youths are likely to be exposed to outside influences that can be negative.

"At this point in time, especially for my older one, they need direction," said Tussing, who is married and has another son, Doug, who is 11.

Some companies have extended their after-school outreach nationwide. J.C. Penney Co., for instance, in 2000 created the Afterschool Fund, a public charity that supports four after-school child-care providers: the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, 4-H Clubs and Junior Achievement, as well as the Afterschool Alliance. The company has donated a total of $30 million, according to Ed Solczak, vice president of the fund.

Though the program wasn't designed specifically for Penney employees, Barbara Dicks, a project specialist at Penney's corporate office in Plano, Texas, said she benefits from it.

Dicks is a single grandmother who is raising her 7-year-old grandson, Quincy Tunstall. When the boy first came to live with Dicks, he wasn't old enough to start kindergarten, so she enrolled him in the YMCA's all-day program. Now, Quincy, a first-grader, goes there after school and Dicks picks him up around 5:15 p.m.

"With the flexibility I have in my workplace and the YMCA program, I'm pretty well covered," Dicks said.

To be successful, programs need support from the senior levels of management, advocates say. At Abbott Laboratories, CEO Miles White delivered the message in a letter and in subsequent e-mails to employees, Larkin said.

At IBM, Fako didn't have to look any further than her boss for support. Dan Pelino, regional vice president for IBM, coaches soccer and basketball in Hinsdale, Ill., for his daughters, Kathryn, 11, and Megan, 10. He sometimes has to leave work for two to three hours twice a week for practices.

"This past fall, I only missed two practices," Pelino said.

Pelino's wife doesn't work, so someone is always there for the girls after school. For Pelino, flexibility is about making the best use of precious time.

"It's so important, at those ages, to have whatever bonding experience I can have. When they get a little older, they might not care as much."

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