WILLMAR -- Last year the YMCA child care center fielded five to six calls every day from people looking for childcare services.
This year they've been getting five to six calls a week.
"There is a change there," said Donna Brau, child care program director of the center, located at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services building in Willmar. "People are losing their jobs and staying home."
The center is licensed for 64 children and currently has no openings for infants or toddlers and has only two openings in their pre-school rooms.
But the sharp decline in phone calls for new inquiries is unsettling to Brau and could be another bad sign of the economic hard times.
Fewer inquiries could mean people are losing their jobs and therefore don't need day care, or that families are trying to reduce household costs by eliminating day care.
That has Brau concerned that children are being "bounced" to whoever is available to take care of them for the day and may not be receiving quality care.
"Kids need that consistent care," Brau said. "They won't get that when bounced around from one place to another place."
When children are subject to a patchwork schedule of caregivers, they "won't get the kind of care and preparation they really deserve," Brau said.
There are limited day-care openings for infants at all licensed day-care facilities in the community. Brau said it's not uncommon for a woman to secure a spot when she's only one or two months into her pregnancy.
Brau said parents who pull their very young children out of day care because they lost their job will have a hard time finding new day care when they start working again. That could result in more shuffling of children between friends, neighbors, family members or "whoever has time for them that day."
Quality day care has "obvious benefits to kids," Brau said.
For families who meet low-income guidelines, there is state financial assistance to help pay for licensed day care. Low state reimbursement rates, however, mean some families still struggle to pay for day care.
The YMCA child care center also has sliding fees and scholarships that are subsidized by community partners. That can help families who, for example, have had hours reduced at work and can't pay the full tuition but don't qualify for assistance.
Programs that allow kids to stay in licensed day care and parents to get to their jobs can keep people off welfare, Brau said. "I've seen it make a huge difference in people's lives."
During a recent Kandiyohi County Board meeting, Brau told the story of a young family that was struggling with jobs and their ability to pay for day care at the YMCA. They received financial assistance several years ago while they got back on their feet. Today, said Brau, the parents have good jobs and their children are in school.
"It feels good to be part of that," Brau said.