Which of us do not have friends or relatives who are working mothers?

And how many more parents are there out there who would like to return to work but are prevented by childcare issues?

These were some of the questions prompting the recent survey of parents conducted by Brighton and Hove Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership (EYDCP).

The EYDCP sent out 1,500 questionnaires: 1,000 to parents who had contacted the city's Children's Information Service and 500 to parents whose children have benefited from the Council's Playlink Service.

First, in line with national trends, they found 78 per cent of respondents work for more than 16 hours a week.

Of those, 32 per cent claim Working Families' Tax Credit, which helps with childcare costs for those returning to the workplace.

On the other hand, the cost of childcare continues to be seen as a major barrier for those planning to return to work or training, with half of those not in work saying the reason was cost.

The survey does not reveal whether or not parents are claiming the tax credit when they are eligible.

However, there is some evidence the take-up does not mirror social need.

For example, working parents from ethnic minorities, where salaries are usually lower, are less likely to claim it.

And yet, 40 per cent of respondents not currently in paid employment say they would consider returning to work if they had help with childcare costs.

In this case, why are they not taking advantage of Working Families' Tax Credit?

Both Brighton and Hove and East Sussex EYDCPs strongly recommend all parents planning to return to work first contact their local Children's Information Service to find out if they are eligible for it and for other into-work benefits.

On the other hand, of those working parents who are using childcare, 73 per cent rate it excellent or good.

What makes for quality? Parents are clearly more alert to this now than ever before and the survey reveals one of the top three factors parents consider when choosing childcare is the level of qualifications of staff.

The other two are cost and location, with parents naturally wanting childcare for under-fives en route to work and childcare for older children close to the child's school.

But for a significant minority, there is little doubt the preferred form of childcare for under-fives the familiar day nursery is not flexible enough to meet changing working patterns.

Almost 30 per cent of parents need childcare earlier than the norm of 8am and later than 6pm growing evidence of an increase in twilight working and shift work which is not being mirrored by childcare.

For single parents, who often do not have an informal support network to draw on, this is clearly a significant issue as the pressing need is not just for extended childcare hours but also for weekend childcare.

Again, this reflects the changes in working patterns in the service industry, prompted by an apparently universal demand for weekend shopping and other services.