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Childcare choices

If you are a parent who works, you will almost certainly need some kind of childcare.

At its extremes, this might take the form of a stay-at-home partner who tends to your little one while you are out earning money, or a complicated rota of professionals all tortuously timetabled to help you manage the work-life balance.

As the end of parental leave looms, anyone thinking of diving back into the workplace will probably face the bewildering world of child carers, nurseries, nannies and pre-schools.

So, how do you solve the problem of which is best for you and your child?

Assuming your partner is not going to look after the children full-time or you are a stay-at-home single parent, the choices boil down to:

Informal arrangements

Maybe a grandparent or other relative is able and willing to look after your child while you put in the hours at work.

Alternatively, parents could share childcare with friends. For instance, two or more parents work part-time and look after each other's children when they're not at work.

This solution will probably come cost-free, but if you have to work part-time you will have a loss of income and you will not qualify for any financial help.

Registered childminder

A registered childminder can look after a number of children in their own home.

Many childminders are parents themselves and work flexible hours, caring for your child all through the working day or part of the day. They may be able to have them during the morning, or pick them up from pre-school and look after them until you finish work.

Childminders can care for up to six children under eight at any one time, including up to three children under five and one under 12 months.

All childminders, and those offering childcare services for reward in their own home to children under eight years old must, by law, be registered with the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) in England, the Care Inspectorate in Scotland, the CSSIW in Wales (Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales) and Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland.

Childminding is a flexible solution to child-care, and the home environment, with kids of different ages to play with, is an attractive option for some children and their parents. Some parents, though, find that this 'homely' touch can create feelings of rivalry or guilt if your child appears to sometimes favour the childminder over you.

There are advantages if you are an employee, as you may be able to take advantage of a tax incentive (child care vouchers) to help towards the cost.

Rates vary depending on where you live.

Nursery

If reliability is an important element in your childcare choice, day nurseries are worth considering.

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