The Government plans to introduce a childcare benefit in October 1999 but it will only assist families that earn pounds 90 a week or less, and the cost of a registered childminder in London is about pounds 100 per week.
How to find someone
Call your local authority for a list of registered childminders, nurseries and playgroups and then ask your local social worker which ones she can recommend.
If you are looking for an au pair, go through a registered agency which will change the au pair if you have a problem within the first four weeks. This costs about pounds 150. Many au pairs are placed with a family before they actually arrive in Britain. If you can interview an au pair who is already in the country, it usually means that they are unhappy with their current position and that can mean that either they, or their previous employer, were a problem. Make sure to check their most recent British references.
If you are looking for a nanny, you can use a recommended agency but this can cost up to pounds 500. Alternatively you can place an advert in The Lady, the TNT Australian Times, or the The Register.
Look on the the noticeboard or place ads in local playgroups or libraries.
A childminder provides daycare in her own home for young children. Childminders must be registered with the local authority, who carry out an annual inspection. You do not need any formal training to register as a childminder. A full- time childminder costs about pounds 100 per week and can only look after three children under the age of five at once.
A nanny does not have to have any qualifications and nannies do not have to register with the local authority. Some nannies will have a Cache diploma in nursery nursing (NNEB) but the right kind of experience with small children is as valuable. A live-in nanny earns about pounds 200 per week and a live-out nanny will cost about pounds 250.
Au pairs/mothers' helps
Au pairs should not be expected to take care of very small children by themselves. They are only legally allowed to work for 25 hours a week, but many are exploited and work much longer hours.Mothers' helps work much longer hours, are cheaper than nannies (about pounds 80 per week) and, as the term implies, the mother should be in the home.
In private nurseries, babies are looked after by trained nursery nurses. A full-time nursery place costs pounds 150, including nappies and food.
The National Children's Bureau, 0171-843 6307; Working for Childcare, 0171-700 0281; The National Childminding Association, 0181-464 6164; Daycare Trust Childcare Hotline, 0171-405 5617
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