By Tris Anderson
PERHAM — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota’s senior Democratic senator, visited Children’s Corner in Perham on Saturday, Nov. 4, to tour the expanded facility ahead of its grand reopening on Nov. 21, and to discuss child care issues more broadly.
Klobuchar was welcomed by representatives of Perham Health, KLN Family Brands and Children’s Corner, a nonprofit child care provider with locations in Fergus Falls and Perham, as well as city and county officials.
While Children’s Corner has been serving Perham for over 10 years, the expanded center is a joint venture between Perham Health, KLN and the child care provider.
Their goal is to increase child care availability in the community, something that is sorely needed, as the county had a shortage of 1,035 child care slots in 2022, according to a September Otter Tail County press release.
Prior to the expansion, Children’s Corner was licensed to serve 29 when it first opened, now that number has almost doubled to 52 — although only 47 slots are currently filled. The opportunity to expand arose from the Boys & Girls Club of Perham vacating a portion of the building when the club moved to a new location in town.
“Over the course of about a year’s time, we started the process of working together and coming up with common language that we would agree on as far as a lease and our partnership,” said Sue TenEyck-Stafki, Children’s Corner executive director. “And we’ve got certain spaces set aside for KLN and Perham Health, so it gives them the opportunity to recruit people, because there’s already so many spaces, but we also serve the rest of the community as well.”
Justine Anderson, Perham Health's chief financial officer, said that the collaboration is a “win-win” for everyone, not just the entities involved in the expansion.
“Our employees can come here and we help subsidize and then that opens up other spots, home day care spots,” Anderson said.
Perham Health and KLN are subsidizing about one-third of the cost of care.
Otter Tail County Community Development Director Amy Baldwin shared her own story of finding child care when she moved to the area from the Twin Cities roughly nine years ago.
“I accepted a job starting Jan. 1, and Sue was able to work with my family and got my toddler in at that time,” Baldwin said. “And then, like a month later, I was pregnant with my daughter … and even with that nine, 10, 11 month leave time, accounting for my time off work, there still wasn’t an infant spot at Children’s Corner or any family care.”
Klobuchar remarked that the collaboration between Children’s Corner and anchor businesses in the community is a unique solution to a nationwide issue.
“I am obsessed with this issue,” Klobuchar said. “You need the space, you need the workers, you need some kind of assistance usually from a company or the government.”
Klobuchar highlighted some of the work she and her Senate colleagues are doing to address child care shortages at the federal level.
“Sen. (Dan) Sullivan from Alaska and I have a bill to focus on rural child care deserts …” she said. “There’s major legislation that was discussed during both the Trump administration and Biden administration — because there are a lot of Republicans that want to work on this — that once it’s over, like, 7% of someone’s income, the cost of child care would get some federal subsidy, and it would be a game changer for some of the day cares …”
During the meeting, TenEyck-Stafki, who manages about 50 staff between her two locations, brought attention to other issues affecting Children’s Corner and other child care providers, particularly pay and workforce recruitment and retention.
“It isn’t just here, it isn’t just us,” she said, “it is every child care center in this entire region — that our pay is just not where it needs to be. And not because we don’t want it to be, but because the challenge for us is I’m a nonprofit.”
Last year, Children’s Corner had to raise tuition by about $12 per week per child due to rising costs spurred on by inflation, TenEyck-Stafki said.
The discussion ended with a brief tour of the facility. And if you want to tour the expanded facility, a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held from 4:30-6:30 p.m. on Nov. 21, with tours to follow the ribbon-cutting. Children's Corner is located at 320 Sixth Ave. SW in Perham.