Finding best type of care isn't child's play: Mary Wilson looks at some of the childminding options available to working parents

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WITH school holidays upon us, any working mother will appreciate the importance of good child care. If you are a new mother contemplating child care options you have a few choices.

The most expensive option in terms of child care is a nanny, either live-in or daily. The going rate in London for a live-in nanny is from pounds 130 to pounds 180 a week net and for a daily one around pounds 200.

Gilly MacWilliam, who works for Kensington Nannies in London, says: 'The average cost for a trained live-in nanny is pounds 160 a week. Once you have paid tax and National Insurance contributions this will add up to pounds 230.

'You will have to provide their own room, TV and often a car. The nanny will want weekends off and will probably do two evenings babysitting. A nanny coming in daily normally works from 8am to 6.30pm Monday to Friday.'

If you would like your child to be with other children, a childminder could be the answer. These are registered with the local council and each has a police and health check before being accepted. The home where the child is kept during the day is also checked for heating, safety and suitability.

Childminders charge on average in London about pounds 70 to pounds 80 week per child, food included. They are reappraised regularly and a list can be obtained from a day care adviser at your local council.

Gill Haynes, director of the National Childminding Association, says: 'Childminders are greatly undervalued. Our association is here to promote childminding as a quality child care service. We need far more full-time childminders, but it is an issue of funding for training to achieve that quality.'

Bryony Henriques, a PR consultant, gave birth to Emily a year ago. 'I didn't know what I wanted so I drew up a list of pros and cons for a nanny, childminder or day nursery,' she says.

'For me the day nursery jumped out a mile. Having a nanny was too expensive and I wanted to have the option to work for three days a week to begin with, but extend that if my work expanded.

'Being self-employed, I didn't quite know what my clients would think about me working with a child, so I needed flexibility. The nursery basically offered that.'

Emily goes to the nursery, The Little Tugboat, in Fulham, south- west London, from around 8.30am to 6pm and has the option of an extra day. This costs Mrs Henriques pounds 30 a week. Council-run day nurseries tend to cost less for priority children, in other words those in need of care away from the home, but some boroughs are beginning to sell places, charging around pounds 100 a week.

Melanie Weldon, of Westminster City Council, says: 'We are lucky to have the Westminster Children's Society, which receives pounds 750,000 a year from the council and runs 10 low-cost, high-care nurseries. Its aim is to catch those people who would fall just out of the priority list for ordinary day nurseries.' The charge is pounds 40 to pounds 50 a week.

State nursery schools are for three- to five-year-olds and these offer mornings or afternoons. They are open to children in the area with priority given on location and siblings.

Private nursery and Montessori nursery schools often take children from two-and-a-half and in London charge from pounds 500 a term upwards for a half-day and more than pounds 1,000 a term for a full day.

Other options are pre-school playgroups, which are for two-and-a-half to five-year-olds and only run in the mornings. These are run by parents and Jackie Mayell, a play leader in Hammersmith and Fulham, says: 'We are trying to get funding extended so we can provide a better service.

'These groups are all about learning through play. We have a structured syllabus and all leaders are registered and trained.'

Playgroups cost pounds 5 a week and parent and toddler groups, also run by the Pre-School Playgroup Association (071-828 2417), cost 50p for a two-hour session. These groups are set up as much for parents as for the children.

Once your child is at school, after-school care can be a problem. Some childminders will take children part-time as will nannies, but this is expensive. The Kids Club Network (071-247 3009), which has been running since the early 1980s, has more than 1,000 clubs in the UK, offering before- and after-school sessions and some all day ones during the holidays. On average they charge pounds 13 a week and pounds 31 a week during holidays.

(Photograph omitted)

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