New ‘Sesame Street’ Muppet Meant to Address Children Trapped in Opioid Crisis

Generations of children have grown up watching Sesame Street, a place filled with life lessons, academic instruction, and kid-centric demonstrations on how to get along with everyone—including those look or live differently.

If Sesame Street was part of your environment growing up, we’re sure you have a favorite character! Mixed in with the entertainment and education is another element. Sesame Street has sometimes addressed real-life problems and social issues.

They are introduced in a way that is empathetic, relatable, and understandable for children. Do you remember Mr. Hooper dying? How about Julia, the little Muppet girl who is autistic? 

Sesame Workshop is now bringing another character into the fold who is dealing with substance addiction issues in her life. Kids will get to know Karli a little bit better.

Sesame Street sign
Sesame Street sign | Jason Kempin/Getty Images

‘Sesame Street’ is addressing opioid use

Over the years, we’ve seen mainstays like Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and Bert and Ernie as part of the Sesame Street family. The show is in its 50th year, and this year Sesame Street decided to add another Muppet to the lineup as part of a new initiative.

6-year-old Karli first came aboard in May as a little girl living in foster care. Now the show will explore her story further, including her mother’s struggle with addiction. It’s the reason her mom had to go away and the reason why Karli was placed in the foster system.

According to The Associated Press, Sesame Workshop decided to create a story arc around the issue due to research that shows more than 5 million children under 11 live a household with a parent who has a substance use disorder.

Sesame Workshop’s Sherrie Westin, who is presides over the company’s social impact initiatives, said this through a press statement:

“Addiction is often seen as a ‘grown-up’ issue, but it impacts children in ways that aren’t always visible. Having a parent battling addiction can be one of the most isolating and stressful situations young children and their families face

Sesame Street has always been a source of comfort to children during the toughest of times, and our new resources are designed to break down the stigma of parental addiction and help families build hope for the future.”

Karli’s programming and additional resources were tooled with the assistance of a children’s therapist who is the director of an addiction and recovery program.

The special segments are exclusively available online

Per the press release, the content is part of the “Sesame Street in Communities” programming and is designed to help children understand and cope with substance addiction issues in their lives.

Karli won’t be alone. She navigates her family life with the help of a little girl named Salia, and Muppets Elmo and Abby Cadabby.

In addition to a film and show segments, there will be music and activities for children. Sesame Workshop wishes to drive home these points:

You are not alone. You will be taken care of. Addiction is a sickness and, as with any sickness, people need help to get better. And most importantly: It’s not your fault.”

All resources are available in English and Spanish, including videos and interactive segments.

‘Sesame Street’ has tackled sensitive topics before

One of the show’s most recent additions is Lily, a Muppet whose family is homeless. She first came on the scene in 2011, but late last year, her storyline was expanded to address childhood poverty and hunger.

Lily’s family had to visit food pantries to survive, and when her narrative was introduced, friends and fellow Muppets learned more. Her family lost their home and are living with friends on Sesame Street until they get back on their feet. They have also spent time in shelters, and Lily is the first Muppet on the show to be dealing with a homeless experience.

Both characters are meant to tackle these issues from a child’s perspective. To learn more about Karli and this special initiative, visit the Sesame Street in Communities website.