Staying at home to take care of the children is a thing of the past for most modern families.

Sky-high mortgages and living costs mean one income is often no longer enough to support the family.

Recent figures from the EU statistics arm Eurostat revealed three out of four mothers work because they need the money and only one in 50 would actually choose to work full-time if they could afford to stay at home.

Often, that is not possible so parents have to look at the options available to suit them - and their pockets.

"Don't leave it until the last minute," warns Liz Roberts, editor of Nursery World magazine.

"There are still not enough options in some areas and there is a lot of competition for nursery places so it is important to make arrangements as early as possible.

"Start thinking about what kind of childcare suits you or how much flexibility you need and weigh up the advantages and disadvantages."

The most flexible option is to hire a private nanny as parents can arrange the hours to suit them and have a carer dedicated solely to their child.

Nannies are not regulated by OFSTED (the Office for Standards in Education) and Roberts advises parents to double check references and, where possible, select a nanny who has a diploma in childcare and education.

Not everyone can afford the luxury of a personal nanny, of course.

For families on a low income, who work odd hours or shifts, a nanny would be the best option but is a financial impossibility. The same applies to families with special needs children.

A childminder is another possibility, whereby different age groups are looked after by a carer at the childminder's home.

They are registered with OFSTED which gives parents an added safeguard. Roberts adds: "They do not tend to quit on a whim so there is continuity of care."

She advises parents to check the environment and what kind of activities are provided to make sure it is the right choice.

Day nurseries are also registered with OFSTED, which requires half the staff have childcare qualifications.

Roberts says the best nurseries have a more qualified staff than the minimum and also a low staff turnover. "They have great facilities but have a more institutional atmosphere."

Playgroups or nursery schools take children for a few hours a day and are ideal for mothers working part-time.

Check the Children's Information Services for a list of registered childcare options on or the Daycare Trust leaflet Your Guide To Choosing Childcare, available by calling 0207 840 3350.

Employers can ease the situation by setting up their own nursery, providing childcare vouchers or helping employees pay for childcare.

Some companies receive tax benefits for helping to run nurseries and reserving places for employees.

Parents need all the help they can get with typical childcare costs in the UK at £6,200 to £7,500 per year per child, depending on the region.

Daycare Trust advises parents to check their benefit entitlements to help them cope financially.

Working Families Tax Credit contains a Childcare Tax Credit which is added on to regular pay by the employer or directly from the Inland Revenue.

The Childcare Tax Credit takes in to account childcare costs of up to £135 per week for one child and £200 per week for two or more children. Contact the Tax Credit Helpline on 0845 609 5000 for further details.

Children's Tax Credit is a form of tax relief worth up to £520 a year for working parents and also offers extra help of £10 a week for one year to families who have a new baby.

For details, contact the Child Tax Credit Helpline on 0845 300 1036.

Report by Lesley Richardson