Remember those post-war movies in which mum stayed at home with the children, baking cakes and organising picnics?

While the lucky few in this position might quibble about the details - including the dying art of home-baking - for many families, this is pure fantasy.

Sky-high housing costs mean that, even if you aren't a single parent, the likelihood is you will be one of the six in ten mothers who work outside the home. And once you are in the workplace, you are hit with the sledgehammer of childcare costs.

Yes, you know childcare workers are paid less than many other trained professionals but there is no doubt that, as the customer, you still face a high bill with a large proportion of your salary disappearing.

So, what are the options?

First, some facts. If you place your child in a nursery, pre-school or playgroup or with a registered childminder, all these will have to comply with the National Standards, register with Ofsted and face regular inspections.

The same applies to breakfast clubs and after-school clubs for under-eights (provided they are open for more than two hours a day) and holiday playschemes for under-eights.

However, if you opt for a nanny (the most expensive option) or an au pair (the cheapest), none of these checks applies. You also run the risk of employing someone who has not been checked by the police.

Another cause for concern is that au pairs are not trained.

Usually students over here to learn English, they expect to be employed for light duties only.

Do you really want to entrust your baby to an untrained 18 year old?

While cutting costs by using untrained labour is not a good idea, there are other options.

Three or four-year-olds are entitled to a subsidised early education place. This is learning through play which enables children to develop skills and knowledge across six areas of learning.

Excellent preparation for main school, it also reduces costs as many nurseries and playgroups will allow you to top this up to cover the working day.

There is another way of reducing costs: The childcare element within the Working Families' Tax Credit which, incredibly, has a low take-up.

Why? The benefits (pun not intended) are self-evident:

If you are a parent working 16 or more hours a week and using registered childcare, you can claim up to 70 per cent of childcare costs, which could save you up to £135 a week for one child and £200 a week for two.

With typical childcare averaging £6,200 to £7,500 a year, this is not to be sneezed at.

Some parents are put off by the prospect of bureaucracy but there are many helping hands available.

Kites or Brighton & Hove Childcare Information Service can give you information but you can also contact the Inland Revenue, which is working hard at customer relations, direct.

Ring the Tax Credit Helpline on 0845 609 5000 or visit www.inlandrevenue.
You can even calculate how much you are entitled to by using the on-line calculator.

For more information about
childcare provision throughout East Sussex, ring Kites Childcare Information on 01323 737294. For details of childcare provision in Brighton and Hove, ring Brighton &

Hove Childcare Information Service on 01273 293545 or visit