Service gives firm help with minding the kids: One-time voucher scheme is aiding companies with childcare problems

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FOR WORKING parents, arranging childcare can be a nightmare. Nannies can leave with little notice or turn out to be unsuitable, childminders can go sick, and nurseries can be hard to find.

All of which can be highly stressful - particularly for first- time parents.

But Childcare Solutions - a company that is part of the LV Group, itself a subsidiary of the French Accor - offers an answer. For as little as pounds 1.70 per employee, a business can help staff to overcome such problems by using the company's referral service.

Operated with the assistance of voluntary bodies such as the National Childminding Association, the scheme is an outgrowth of Childcare Vouchers. That was set up in January 1992 to help employers help employees with the cost of childcare, in the same way that luncheon vouchers and the recently launched eyecare vouchers help with meals and opticians' charges.

Childcare Solutions was originally part of the Childcare Vouchers package, but it has proved so successful that it was spun off as a separate organisation a few months ago.

Steven Stanbury, its business development manager, said about 20 organisations had signed up for the service so far. They include trade unions, banks, and utilities. He said it was a 'relatively inexpensive' way for businesses - even small ones - to provide practical help to their staff.

The service provides three types of help. The first is general background information. The second is a matching service, which taps into a nationwide database covering 50,000 childminders - half the total in the UK - 5,000 nurseries, and hundreds of other childcare schemes to let parents know what is available in their areas. Finally, there is assistance with the selection process. A special freephone number allows employees easy access to the service.

Among the latest recruits is the Crown Prosecution Service, which employs 6,000 people - 60 per cent of whom are women - in 100 offices around the country.

Mr Stanbury said the service was a way for companies to 'do something tangible' to show their commitment to initiatives such as Opportunity 2000.

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