Don't count Sesame Street out when it comes to discussing important national conversations — even one as complicated and intimidating as the opioid crisis. The educational children's show is tackling the opioid crisis by revealing Karli, the little green Muppet with yellow hair, was in foster care because her mother suffered from addiction.
When Sesame Street returns for its 50th season, Karli will explain that her mom "was away for a while because she had a grown-up problem." The storyline is part of the Sesame Street in Communities project offering online-only supplemental content free to providers, parents and caregivers, and is designed for kids who are often the unseen victims of addiction.
"How they're impacted by addiction is often something that we don't hear about or, more importantly, don't hear [in] a children's voice or perspective," Jeanette Betancourt, senior vice president for U.S. social impact at Sesame Workshop, told NBC News.
Karli herself, who was introduced earlier this year to represent children in foster care, told the news organization that "I love my mom so much" but that "she couldn't take good care of me because she was having such a tough time."
Perhaps predictably, reactions on social media spanned a wide range.
Ahhhhhh. Seriously, do preschoolers need to see this? You think they can grasp what addiction is?— Bill (@Oculuris) October 10, 2019
More than 2 million Americans are addicted to prescription opioids. Kids deal with this epidemic everyday. Thank you @sesamestreet for helping them.— Adam Gaylord (@AuthorGaylord) October 10, 2019
Picture yourself as a 4 year old with a parent struggling with addiction. They'd have no idea what's going on. Is it my fault? Can I help?
This gives children perspective. Their parents addiction isn't their fault. They aren't alone. Heres one way we can show them and teach them— Great American Bearded Trash Panda (@Rafterian) October 10, 2019
Unfortunately, it's a story that many children are familiar with, including 10-year-old California girl Salia Woodbury, whose parents battled opioid addiction and have been in recovery for eight years. She joins Karli in some of the episodes to help children of addicted parents know that they're not alone.
"My mom and dad told me that addiction is a sickness," Salia said in a segment viewed by The Associated Press.
"Yeah, a sickness that makes people feel like they have to take drugs or drink alcohol to feel OK," Karli said. "My mom was having a hard time with addiction and I felt like my family was the only one going through it. But now I've met so many other kids like us. It makes me feel like we're not alone."
"Right, we're not alone," Salia responded. "And it's OK to open up to people about our feelings."
"We all feel, like, our big feelings inside," Salia said. But "we're strong, and we can all work together to go through it."
Salia's mother, Jaana Woodbury, told NBC News that the opioid addiction is "a huge crisis," adding that the special series "kind of takes away the stigma and the judgment, and it encourages people to be open-minded."
Photo credit: Sesame Workshop