Sesame Street is tackling addiction with one of its latest segments.
In a storyline that is part of the Sesame Street in Communities project, Karli the muppet reveals that she is in foster care because her mother battles addiction.
In one clip, Karli — voiced by puppeteer Haley Jenkins — thanks Chris (Chris Knowings) for taking care of her and Elmo while her mom “is at her meeting.”
When Elmo asks what kind of meeting Karli’s mom had to go to, Chris explains that Karli’s mom “has been having a hard time.”
“So in order to help her get better, she goes to a meeting with her group,” Chris says in the video. “They all sit in a circle.”
When Elmo excitedly shares that he likes “singing-circle time in school,” Karli tells him that her mom’s circle is very different.
“They talk about grown up problems. She goes everyday so that she stays healthy. You see, my mom needs help learning to take better care of herself,” Karli says.
Later in the clip, Karli further explains that she attends her own group, which is for children whose parents are dealing with the same problems, and that her mom attends meetings “every day so that she stays healthy.”
In a different clip, Karli candidly addressed her mom’s problem as addiction and introduces viewers to her friend Salia, a real-life girl, whose parents are in recovery.
“My new friend Salia is a very special friend, her mom and dad had the same problem as my mom — addiction. When my mom was having a hard time, I had lots of feelings. I felt like I was the only one, but now I’ve met other kids like Salia, and we can talk about it together,” Karli says.
Salia, 10, then introduces herself and explains she was forced to live with her grandparents after her parents had to “go to a place to help them feel better” as they battled addiction.
“Addiction is a sickness — It makes people feel like they need drugs and alcohol to feel okay,” Salia says. “They were gone for 60 days and it felt like 60 years.”
Viewers then meet her parents as her mom reveals, “We had to leave for 60 days to go get help because we wanted you to have a good life, but first we had to take of ourselves so that we could do that.”
The language — which The Hollywood Reporter reported the creators were very careful with, in order to be accessible to children — helped Elmo to understand. He says: “Well, when Elmo talks about a problem that Elmo is having, it helps Elmo feel better.”
Sesame Workshop’s president of global impact and philanthropy Sherrie Westin said in a statement to THR that “For everything we’ve done — from military families to homelessness — it’s all about how to make children free to talk and to give parents the tools to do just that. They tend to avoid it and it’s what they need more than anything.”
This isn’t the first time that Sesame Street has tackled tough topics to make them more accessible to kids.
Karli, who is in foster care, was introduced in May (which is National Foster Care Month) of this year.
Last year, Sesame Street featured a homeless muppet, the seven-year-old Lily. It has also featured muppets on the autism spectrum, kids who are bullied, and kids who have parents in jail.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.